Science warnings, US retreat add urgency to UN climate talks

Science warnings, US retreat add urgency to UN climate talks

MADRID — Mass protests, a last-minute venue change and talk of climate tipping points are adding some unplanned drama to this year’s international talks on tackling global warming.

Delegates from almost 200 countries had hoped to put the finishing touches to the rules governing the 2015 Paris accord, ironing out a few wrinkles left over from last year’s conference in Katowice, Poland, and setting the scene for a major review of their efforts in 2020.

But then Brazil pulled its offer of hosting the talks and stand-in Chile, rattled by anti-government protests, cancelled five weeks before the meeting. Next, President Donald Trump served formal notice that the United States was quitting the Paris accord, delivering a symbolic blow to one of his predecessor’s signature achievements.

And scientists? Well, they didn’t have any good news either. Study after study published in recent months has underscored the rapid pace of global warming and the need to urgently cut emissions of greenhouse gases.

Against that backdrop, the Dec. 2-13 meeting in Madrid has gained fresh impetus.

“We have to do more in less time,” said Spanish environment minister Teresa Ribera, whose country stepped in at short notice to host the talks, saying it wanted to support “constructive multilateralism” in the wake of Chile’s announcement and the U.S. withdrawal.

U.N. climate chief Patricia Espinosa said Saturday that “science tells us we are still in time” to tackle the climate crisis.

“That doesn’t mean changing the world by tomorrow, but we must make decisions today,” she said during a visit to the meeting venue.

Organizers expect around 25,000 visitors, including heads of state, scientists, seasoned negotiators and activists to attend the two-week meeting.

The main items on the agenda include finalizing rules on global carbon markets and agreeing how poor countries should be compensated for destruction largely caused by emissions from rich nations.

Proposals to create a worldwide market for emissions permits have been around for decades. The idea is that putting a price on carbon dioxide — the main greenhouse gas — and gradually reducing the available permits will encourage countries and companies to cut their emissions, notably by shifting away from fossil fuels toward renewable energy sources.

The European Union and some other jurisdictions already operate limited emissions trading systems, but efforts to roll these out worldwide have been hampered by fears that the lack of robust and transparent rules could corrupt the market.

“It would be great news to finalize this issue,” said Ribera. But she warned that the “solvency and integrity of the system” was a concern.

“If we cannot complete it correctly, it’s better to lay the ground for later completion,” said Ribera.

That view was echoed by Yamide Dagnet, a former EU climate negotiator now with the Washington-based environmental think-tank World Resources Institute.

“Without proper oversight and robustness these mechanisms could severely undercut climate action by creating loopholes, letting countries off the hook for making meaningful emission cuts, resulting in double counting and jeopardizing environmental integrity,” she said.

The question of compensating poor countries for environmental destruction — technically referred to as loss and damage — is also likely to be sensitive, said Dagnet. Attributing specific weather disasters such as hurricanes and floods, or slow but irreversible changes like sea level rise and desertification, to climate change remains a delicate issue given the potential sums involved.

Concerns about the cost of climate change are growing on all fronts. Trump cited financial demands on the United States as one of the reasons for quitting the Paris accord; European countries have hesitated to raise fuel prices for fear of sparking yellow vest-style protests like those seen in France; meanwhile, businesses are beginning to consider the price not just of reducing emissions but also of failing to do so.

Scientists say the time to act is now, if the world wants to meet the goal set in Paris of keeping global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), ideally 1.5 C by the end of the century. By some measures average temperatures have already increased by one degree Celsius since pre-industrial times, with the sharpest rise occurring in the last few decades.

“Global warming is going faster,” said Johan Rockström, co-director of Germany’s Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. “Climate impacts are occurring earlier and we are approaching potentially irreversible thresholds earlier than we previously thought.”

Rockström and several colleagues recently warned that the world is heading for several “ tipping points ” that could sharply accelerate the pace of climate change. They include deforestation in the Amazon and the decline of ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica.

Such messages resonate with environmental activists like Laura Laguna, a member of the Madrid chapter of Fridays for Future, one of the groups planning to protest during the climate talks, known as the 25th Conference of the Parties, or COP25.

“We are close to the point of no return on global warming,” Laguna said. “Our generation’s future depends on what we do now.”

Ribera, whose formal title is interim minister for ecological transition, indicated that European Union leaders may try to send a strong signal during the meeting that the bloc is prepared to make sharper cuts to its emissions than previously pledged. A recent proposal to aim for “climate neutrality” by 2050 failed to win support from all of the EU’s 28 member states — including the host of last year’s talks, Poland.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A cleaner wipes a glass panel at Toronto's Eaton Centre Shopping mall on Saturday, March 21, 2020. The national statistics office will say this morning how much the domestic economy bounced back in the third quarter of the year. The Canadian economy suffered its worst three-month stretch on record in the second quarter as the economy came to a near halt in April before starting to recover in May and June. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
Statistics Canada says economy grew at a record pace in third quarter of 2020

OTTAWA — Statistics Canada says the economy grew at a record annualized… Continue reading

Bill C-4 passed in the House of Commons to authorize new benefits for workers left jobless or underemployed by the COVID-19 pandemic. (File photo)
Tory MPs keep talking on assisted dying bill as clock ticks down to Dec. 18 deadline

OTTAWA — Conservative MPs are refusing to be rushed into a vote… Continue reading

Volcanic materials spew from the crater of Mount Semeru in Lumajang, East Java, Indonesia, Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020. Indonesian authorities are closely monitoring several volcanoes after sensors picked up increased activity in recent weeks, prompting the evacuation of thousands of people. (AP Photo)
Thousands flee as activity in Indonesian volcanoes increases

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Indonesian authorities are closely monitoring several volcanoes after sensors… Continue reading

Men who fled the conflict in Ethiopia's Tigray region, listen to a priest speak at a nearby church for Mass at Umm Rakouba refugee camp in Qadarif, eastern Sudan, Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)
UN: Food has run out for nearly 100,000 refugees in Ethiopia

NAIROBI, Kenya — The United Nations says food has now run out… Continue reading

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, confirmed eight additional virus-deaths Monday afternoon including one in central zone. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
New record: Red Deer at 236 active COVID cases

One more death in central zone reported

Idyllic winter scenes are part of the atmosphere of the holiday season, and are depicted in many seasonal movies. How much do you know about holiday movies? Put your knowledge to the test. (Pixabay.com)
QUIZ: Test your knowledge of holiday movies and television specials

The festive season is a time for relaxing and enjoying some seasonal favourites

Mike Miltimore, seen in Kamloops, B.C., in an undated handout photo, says the Gretsch electric guitar that a woman brought into his store is from 1955 and similar to one played by country music legend Chet Atkins before he developed his signature series of guitars. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Mike Miltimore
Guitar made in 1950s worth more than B.C. family imagined

KAMLOOPS, B.C. — When Renee Latheur decided to take an old guitar… Continue reading

Lewis Hamilton won the German Grand Prix after Sebastian Vettel crashed while leading near the end. (Photo by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Hamilton positive for COVID-19, will miss F1’s Sakhir GP

SAKHIR, Bahrain — Seven-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton has tested positive… Continue reading

In this Dec. 19, 2019 file photo, the advertising label of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, OPEC, shines at their headquarters in Vienna, Austria. Leaders of the OPEC cartel are meeting virtually to decide how much oil their countries should produce as the coronavirus stifles demand for fuel. They’re expected to extend production cuts into the new year in an effort to boost prices. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak, File)
OPEC talks on production hit snag as pandemic clouds outlook

FRANKFURT — The OPEC oil producers’ cartel was to push ahead with… Continue reading

Vancouver Whitecaps forward Fredy Montero celebrates after scoring a goal against the Los Angeles Galaxy during the second half of an MLS soccer match in Portland, Ore., Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020. The Vancouver Whitecaps are hanging on to several of their young players and continuing contract talks with two veterans, including Montero. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Steve Dipaola
Whitecaps exercise options on seven players, ‘continuing discussions’ with Montero

Whitecaps exercise options on seven players, ‘continuing discussions’ with Montero

Toronto FC forward Pablo Piatti (7) cuts past Vancouver Whitecaps defender Ali Adnan (53) during first half MLS Canadian Championship soccer action in Toronto on Friday, August 21, 2020. Barring a new agreement, Toronto FC is parting ways with designated player Pablo Piatti. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Toronto FC looks for new designated player, opts not to pick up Piatti option

Toronto FC looks for new designated player, opts not to pick up Piatti option

Hamilton Forge FC players celebrate their win over CD Olimpia's during Scotiabank CONCACAF League 2019 action in Hamilton, Ont., Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019. After a season that has taken it from Hamilton to Charlottetown, El Salvador and Panama, Forge FC hopes the Dominican Republic is the last stop on the way to the Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Peter Power
Forge FC just one win away from booking ticket to CONCACAF Champions League

Forge FC just one win away from booking ticket to CONCACAF Champions League

A police officer patrols near the Olympic Symbol being transported on a barge in the Odaiba section Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020, in Tokyo. The five Olympic rings are back in Tokyo Bay. They were removed for maintenance four months ago shortly after the Tokyo Olympics were postponed until next year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
Olympic rings back in Tokyo Bay; a sign of hope in pandemic

Olympic rings back in Tokyo Bay; a sign of hope in pandemic

Ottawa Redblacks player Brad Sinopoli speaks to reporters as the team clears out of the locker room, in Ottawa on Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018. Sinopoli fully understands the challenge Kendall Hinton faced Sunday with the Denver Broncos. The Broncos activated Hinton, a receiver, from the practice roster to become the starting quarterback in Sunday's 31-3 loss to the New Orleans Saints. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Former quarterback Brad Sinopoli can appreciate challenges Hinton faced with Broncos

Former quarterback Brad Sinopoli can appreciate challenges Hinton faced with Broncos

Most Read