Climate summit kicks off as UN chief warns of environmental catastrophe

UNITED NATIONS: (Ch Mudassar Iqbal) The UN Climate Change Conference, known as COP25, got underway Monday, with UN Secretary-General warning at a summit in Madrid that governments risked sleepwalking past a point of no return.

The summit, which will end on December 13, is taking place in Madrid, Spain. It was originally due to be held in Santiago, Chile, but was moved to Europe after civil unrest in the South American country.

The talks aimed at bolstering the 2015 Paris Agreement to curb global warming began against a backdrop of unusually severe weather disasters this year, from fires in the Arctic, Amazon and Australia to intense tropical hurricanes In remarks delivered to high-level representatives from 196 countries, the UN chief emphasized that his message was “one of hope, not of despair”, saying, “By the end of the coming decade we will be on one of two paths, one of which is sleepwalking past the point of no return.”

“Do we want to be remembered as the generation that buried its head in the sand and fiddled as the planet burned?”

The other pathway, Guterres said, was to aim for carbon neutrality by 2050.
“There are calls from young people to do more, much more. They know we need to get on the right path today, not tomorrow, and COP25 offers us an opportunity.”

The required global reduction of carbon emissions has more than doubled from 3.3 percent 10 years ago to seven percent now, he said, while the world was “still waiting for transformative movement from most G20 nations” responsible for three-quarters of carbon emissions.
Guterres said new data shows levels of heat-trapping greenhouse gases have hit a record high.

He noted that some countries are still building coal-fired power plants, adding that unless the world stops burning coal “all our efforts to tackle climate change will be doomed.”
Guterres said that big greenhouse gas emitters in particular need to step up their efforts or risk steep temperature rises by the end of the century: “The impact on all life on the planet – including ours – will be catastrophic.”

“The tasks are many”, the secretary-general said, “our timelines are tight, and every item is important”.

Hoesung Lee, the chairman for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said “immediate reductions [of carbon emission] have powerful benefits for all sectors of society.

“The failure to do so will result in the opposite of this, the world will suffer from shredded assets, the financial sector will have greater uncertainty and the environment will suffer from an increased loss of diversity.”

He summed up grimly that “if we stay on our current path, [we] threaten our existence on this planet.”

Proceedings got under way in Madrid’s IFEMA exhibition and trade fair centre, with a handover ceremony bringing together officials from last year’s COP conference host country, Poland, and Carolina Schmidt Zaldivar, environment minister of this year’s presiding nation, Chile.

Speaking later as COP25 President, Ms Schmidt thanked Spain for offering to hold the conference, after original host Chile, beset by ongoing social disorder, requested in late October for it to be moved elsewhere.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez insisted that COP25 “is Chile’s conference” before arguing that “given it was Europe that started the Industrial Revolution, Europe has to lead decarbonisation of the planet”.

Sanchez proposed the creation of a major “Green Pact which unites innovation, digitalisation and fair employment”, and pointed out that “no country however powerful can be protected from the consequences of climate change”.

Overall some 50 world leaders are attending, although one notable absentee is US President Donald Trump, who last year announced his country’s withdrawal from the 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

However, Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi was present, leading a congressional delegation.

Meanwhile, the Spanish prime minister is expected to hold meetings with other European Union leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron.

Posters of Chilean landscapes flank the sides of the broad, treelined approach road to IFEMA on Madrid’s eastern side, where 25,000 delegates from nearly 200 countries will try to thrash out deals, according to press reports.

Key meetings will centre on how the landmark 2015 Paris Climate Change Agreement becomes fully operational, in particular mechanisms for trading carbon, as well as the groundwork needed for fresh climate pledges due to be made by all Paris signees before the end of 2020.

“Article 6 [of the Paris agreement] was the outstanding issue not resolved at Katowice” – the Polish city where COP24 was held last November – “and to put a price on carbon is vital,” said the UN chief.

“Failure risks fragmenting carbon markets…there is no time to spare.”
Security is tight at the IFEMA centre, with more than 5,000 Spanish police on duty outside the buildings, reports said.

Twenty cyclists from the Moving for Climate NOW organisation travelled 500 kilometres to arrive on electric bikes to hand a climate change manifesto to the conference authorities.
Teenage Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg, traveling to the conference across the Atlantic Ocean by catamaran, is now expected to land in Lisbon on Tuesday and reach Madrid by train or electric car soon after.

Local media reported she may take part in a large climate change demonstration in the Spanish capital on December 6.