Hurtling to the point of no-return on climate change: UN’s Guterres
“The point of no-return is no longer over the horizon. It is in sight and hurtling towards us… We are in a deep hole, and we are still digging. Soon it will be too deep to escape,“ said UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres ahead of a preparatory climate change conference in Madrid starting Monday.
Sounding very loud alarm bells, he said the global community should ensure that at least $100 billion dollars a year are available to developing countries to handle climate change issues.
“Every year, air pollution, associated to climate change, kills seven million people. Climate change has become a dramatic threat to human health and to human security.”
Mitigating climate change and financing it are mighty ambitions but achievable within currently available technologies.
Surprisingly a US delegation will attend the COP 25 meetings in Madrid although President Donald Trump has withdrawn the US from the 2015 Paris Agreement. If unchanged, the withdrawal will complete in November 2020.
Without naming the United States, Guterres noted: “In the crucial 12 months ahead, it is essential that we secure more ambitious national commitments – particularly from the main emitters – to immediately start reducing greenhouse gas emissions at a pace consistent to reaching carbon neutrality by 2050.”
The main culprits are the US and China, followed by India and others. A recent UN environment report said the world’s richest and most influential 20 countries, called G20, collectively account for 78 per cent of all emissions. Yet, only five have committed to a long-term zero emissions target.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, countries must limit the rise in global temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius, reach carbon neutrality by 2050 and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45 per cent from 2010 levels by 2030.
“But let’s be clear. Until now, our efforts to reach these targets have been utterly inadequate…Today, the world is set to produce 120 per cent more fossil fuels than what is consistent with a 1.5-degree pathway. And, for coal, the figure is 280 per cent,” Guterres warned.
Expressing hope despite the odds, he announced that the outgoing Bank of England Governor, Mark Carney, will be his Special Envoy on Climate Action and Climate Finance from January 1, 2020. Carney will help to guide progress on the social and financial dimensions of climate change to ensure that the move from the grey to green economy involves “a just transition for people whose jobs and livelihoods are affected”. This is a tall order.
Carney will have his hands full since, as Guterres noted: “Climate-related natural disasters are becoming more frequent, more deadly, more destructive, with growing human and financial costs. Drought in some parts of the world is progressing at alarming rates destroying human habitats and endangering food security.”
The last five years have been the hottest ever recorded. Sea levels are the highest in human history. Ice caps are melting at unprecedented speed and the oceans are becoming more acidic with all its consequences. Biodiversity on land and sea is under severe attack.
The real lack is of political since the public, especially young people, are more aware of climate change issues and more cities, financial institutions and businesses are committing to the 1.5 -degree pathway. Political will is needed to put a price on carbon, stop subsidies on fossil fuels and stop building coal power plants from 2020 onwards.
“We simply have to stop digging and drilling and take advantage of the vast possibilities offered by renewable energy and nature-based solutions,” Guterres said.
The main COP conference, its 26th session, is expected to take place in Glasgow in November 2020. The COP meetings are part of the diplomatic process to tackle climate change within the Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) concluded at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.
The global community has been struggling with the politics of climate change issues for 27 years with no clear end in sight, particularly as the Trump administration has pulled out of the diplomatic process. However, several American State governments remained engaged in COP talks although they do not have as much influence as the White House.