United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Thursday warned that a key temperature target in climate talks was “on sustaining life,” but he still hopes governments around the world will step up on pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
In an exclusive interview with The Associated Press, Guterres said negotiations due to end on Friday in Glasgow, Scotland, will “very likely” not deliver the carbon reduction pledges he said are necessary to prevent the planet to heat up beyond 1.5 degrees. threshold.
Still, the UN chief would not say when he thinks this goal should be abandoned.
“When you’re on the brink,” it’s not important to think too far into the future, he said. “What’s important to discuss is what will be your first step. Because if your first step is wrong, you won’t have the chance to … take a second or a third.
So far, talks have failed to achieve any of the three priorities announced by the UN for the annual conference, called COP26. One is to cut carbon emissions by about half by 2030 to meet the target Guterres alluded to.
The other two force rich countries to fulfill a 12-year pledge to provide $ 100 billion a year in financial assistance to poor countries and ensure that half of that is spent on helping them adjust. the worst effects of climate change.
Guterres said the Glasgow talks “come at a crucial time” and must accomplish more than strike a weak deal that participating countries agree to support.
“The worst would be to reach agreement at all costs on a minimum common denominator that does not meet the enormous challenges we face,” said Guterres.
This is because the overarching goal of limiting warming since pre-industrial times to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 F) by the end of the century “is still within reach, but under life support.” , Guterres said. The world has already warmed by 1.1 degrees Celsius (2 degrees Fahrenheit).
Less than 36 hours after the scheduled closure of negotiations, Guterres said that if negotiators cannot meet ambitious carbon reduction targets – “and most likely it will not” – then national leaders will have to propose to new commitments next year. and in 2023 at high-level meetings.
Guterres later told climate negotiators that “the promises ring hollow when the fossil fuel industry still receives trillions in subsidies … or when countries are still building coal plants.”
In a separate interview Thursday evening, former Irish President Mary Robinson accused Saudi Arabia and Russia of trying to suppress or water down language in a draft deal that would call for a phasing out of coal and the end of fossil fuel subsidies.
She also criticized British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the host of the climate talks, for not taking them seriously enough, for not being in “crisis mode” and for sticking around – unlike her French counterpart. in 2015.
Guterres said he agreed with young climate activists – who have demonstrated in large numbers outside of climate talks, and sometimes inside – who have called on the UN to label the warming high-level climate “climate emergency”.
“For me, it is clear that this is a climate emergency,” Guterres said.
As terrible and tragic as the COVID-19 pandemic is, it is possible that climate change is more of an emergency, Guterres said.
“The pandemic is reversible. We have the tools and the instruments to stop it, ”he said. “Climate change is a global threat to the planet and to humanity. And at the moment, we don’t yet have all the tools and instruments we need to defeat it. “
And a lot of it comes down to the money.
The lack of movement on financial aid to the poorest countries worries Guterres, who later told negotiators the gap was a “flagrant injustice.” He said if he was the leader of a small vulnerable island or another country in danger, he would be upset by what is not happening in Glasgow.
Peter Liese, a senior member of the European Parliament, said on Thursday that he and his fellow lawmakers would press for the $ 100 billion to be paid “definitely next year”.
And this rich-poor divide continued to emerge on Thursday.
The talks are now at the point where two paths were possible: one which was good for people and the planet, and the other which led to “carbon colonialism,” Bolivia’s chief negotiator said, Diego Pacheco Balanz. “We must fight the developed countries against carbon colonialism. “
Balanz was speaking on behalf of the developing country negotiating bloc that includes countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia – with China and India among the latter.
Guterres hailed a Wednesday night deal between the United States and China to cut this decade’s emissions as a reason he still hopes for some semblance of success in Glasgow.
“This deal paves the way for other deals,” Guterres said in a 25-minute interview with AP.
The UN chief said he hopes two thorny issues that have defied resolution for six years can be solved in Glasgow: creating viable markets for trading carbon credits and transparency that shows that The actions promised to reduce pollution are real.
New draft documents on regulating international cooperation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including the section on carbon markets, were published overnight, as were new proposals containing various options for evaluate and monitor financial assistance to developing countries.
The chairman of this year’s United Nations climate meeting called on negotiators from nearly 200 countries to engage in “another gear shift” as they try to reach agreement on outstanding issues one day before the end of the talks.
British official Alok Sharma said there was “no illusion” that the proposed texts would fully satisfy all countries at this stage, adding “we are not there yet”.
Associated Press writer Aniruddha Ghosal contributed from Glasgow.
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