Climate talks must be rescued from failure, warns UN chief

“Key political issues” deadlocking UN climate talks “remain unresolved”, UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres warned on Wednesday after an unscheduled stop at the troubled negotiations in Poland.

The fight against climate change is a “matter of life and death today,” he told ministers and delegates at the 195-nation UN forum tasked with beating back the threat of global warming, barely 48 hours before the meeting in the coal town of Katowice was set to adjourn.

The two-week talks are tasked with breathing life into the 2015 Paris Agreement, which vows to cap global warming at “well under” two degrees Celsius. 

It is also meant to funnel hundreds of billions of dollars to poor countries already feeling the sting of deadly storms, heatwaves and droughts made worse by climate change.

Scientists have concluded that such impacts are already unmistakable with only 1C of warming so far.

But efforts to elaborate a “rule book” for the Paris pact and to boost the carbon-cutting pledges of all nations have run aground, even as a barrage of scientific reports have warned that only immediate and radical measures can avert catastrophic climate impacts.

“The eyes of the world are upon us,” said Guterres, who had not planned to return to the talks after addressing the opening plenary 10 days ago.

“To waste this opportunity would compromise our last best chance to stop runaway climate change,” he said.

“It would not only be immoral, it would be suicidal.”

A major scientific report called for by the UN climate body concluded in October that Earth’s rise in temperature must be capped even lower — at 1.5C — to avoid the danger of runaway warming.


But a handful of countries at the talks, led by the United States and Saudi Arabia, have blocked efforts to endorse the report, which many developing countries see as essential.

“The IPCC report on 1.5C is the basis for all future action, on what we need to do,” Vanuatu Foreign Minister Ralph Regenvanu told AFP.

Endorsing the report’s findings at the conclusion of the UN forum “is a red line issue for us.”

Issues bedevilling discussions include “transparency” — which means different things to different countries, depending on what’s at stake.

‘Ice melts at zero’

Rich nations, for example, are pushing hard for high standards of accounting to keep track of emissions reductions. Poorer nations say they need more time — and lots of money — to comply.

On finance, however, the tables are turned. It is developing countries who decry the opaqueness of financial aid from wealthy countries.

But the most contentious issue on the table is the reluctance of many nations — including the Polish government, which as host presides over the complex negotiations — to underscore the need for countries to enhance voluntary carbon-cutting pledges annexed to the Paris pact.

Even if current promises are fulfilled, Earth would heat up by well over 3C, enough to tug at the fabric of civilisation, say scientists.

“Nobody — not even so-called superpowers — can negotiate with the laws of physics,” said Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, a Belgian climatologist and a former vice-chair of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which produced the report on 1.5C.

A recent study mentioned by Guterres showed that parts of the Antarctic ice sheet — which holds enough frozen water to bury every major coastal city in the world — are melting far more quickly than thought only a few years ago.

“Ice melts at zero degrees Celsius — that’s 32 degrees Fahrenheit,” quipped van Ypersele, converting into the temperature scale used in the United States.

Diplomatic energy at the talks will now focus on hammering out a final text, composed of “decisions,” including one adopting the rule book.

In an attempt to get around the stalemate, the Polish government took control of the process to find compromise language on key sticking points.

But a draft text released Wednesday did not inspire enthusiasm among negotiators.

“From what we have seen so far, they have not made any bold moves,” said Miguel Arias Canete, European Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy.

“The issues with the most political interest to most parties remain unresolved and practically unchanged.”

© Agence France-Presse

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

Marlowe Hood
Marlowe Hood
AFP environment & science reporter, herald of the Anthropocene.
Advertising

ConCourt settles the law on the public protector and interim...

The Constitutional Court said it welcomed robust debate but criticised the populist rhetoric in the battle between Busisiwe Mkhwebane and Minister Pravin Gordhan

Small towns not ready for level 3

Officials in Beaufort West, which is on a route that links the Cape with the rest of the country, are worried relaxed lockdown regulations mean residents are now at risk of contracting Covid-19
Advertising

Press Releases

Covid-19 and Back to School Webinar

If our educators can take care of themselves, they can take care of the children they teach

5G technology is the future

Besides a healthcare problem Covid-19 is also a data issue and 5G technology, with its lightning speed, can help to curb its spread

JTI off to court for tobacco ban: Government not listening to industry or consumers

The tobacco ban places 109 000 jobs and 179 000 wholesalers and retailers at risk — including the livelihood of emerging farmers

Holistic Financial Planning for Professionals Webinar

Our lives are constantly in flux, so it makes sense that your financial planning must be reviewed frequently — preferably on an annual basis

Undeterred by Covid-19 pandemic, China and Africa hold hands, building a community of a shared future for mankind

It is clear that building a community with a shared future for all mankind has become a more pressing task than ever before

Wills, Estate Administration and Succession Planning Webinar

Capital Legacy has had no slowdown in lockdown regarding turnaround with clients, in storing or retrieving wills and in answering their questions

Call for Expression of Interest: Training supply and needs assessment to support the energy transition in South Africa

GIZ invites eligible and professional companies with local presence in South Africa to participate in this tender to support the energy transition

Obituary: Mohammed Tikly

His legacy will live on in the vision he shared for a brighter more socially just future, in which racism and discrimination are things of the past

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday