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UN officials warn of climate disaster if Paris pact fails

/ 10:34 PM December 07, 2015

LE BOURGET, France — Talks on a universal climate pact shifted to a higher gear Monday with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urging governments to set off an “energy revolution” to rein in heat-trapping carbon emissions and avert disastrous global warming.

Foreign and environment ministers joined the talks outside Paris after lower-level negotiators who met last week delivered a draft agreement with all crunch issues left unresolved.

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Warning that “the clock is ticking towards climate catastrophe,” Ban told ministers the world expects more from them than “half-measures.”

“It is calling for a transformative agreement,” he said. “Your work here this week can help eradicate poverty, spark a clean energy revolution and provide jobs, opportunities and hope for tomorrow.”

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The Paris conference is the 21st time world governments have met to seek a joint solution to climate change. The talks are focused on reducing emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, primarily by shifting from oil, coal and gas to cleaner sources of energy.

The envisioned Paris agreement is supposed to be the first deal to ask all countries to rein in their emissions; earlier pacts only required wealthy nations to do so.

“Developed countries must agree to lead, and developing countries need to assume increasing responsibility in line with their capabilities,” Ban said.

How to define those responsibilities is the biggest challenge in the Paris talks. India and other major developing countries insist on their right to use some fossil fuels to advance their economies — just like Western nations have done since the Industrial Revolution. They argue the West therefore is historically responsible for raising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

“India is here to ensure that rich countries pay back their debt for overdraft that they have drawn on the carbon space,” Indian Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar said.

Meanwhile in China, Beijing issued its first ever red alert for smog, urging schools to close and invoking restrictions on factories and traffic. While that’s different from greenhouse gas emissions, much of the air pollution is blamed on coal-fired power plants and vehicle emissions which also are key sources of carbon emissions.

Renewable energy including hydro, wind and solar power, represented about half of all new power plants last year, International Energy Agency director Fatih Birol said. Despite those gains, fossil fuels still meet about 80 percent of the world’s energy demand.

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Another major issue is helping poor, vulnerable countries cope with dangerous warming effects, from rising seas to intensifying droughts and heat waves. Developing countries are asking wealthy nations for promises of financial support in the Paris deal.

U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres called on ministers to produce an agreement “that safeguards the most vulnerable and unleashes the full force of human ingenuity for prosperity for all.”

Alluding to the long-lasting effects of climate change, Figueres said she’s kept up at night by a vision of “the eyes of seven generations beyond me asking me, ‘what did you do?’

“The same question will be asked of each of you,” Figueres told the ministers. “May we all be able to stand tall and clearly say we did everything that was necessary.”

More than 180 countries have already presented national pledges for reining in carbon emissions. Scientific analyses show they won’t be enough to meet the international goal of limiting warming to 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F), compared to pre-industrial times.

Many countries have called for a review of all targets within five years to see if there are ways of ramping them up. The draft, however, sets 2024 as the earliest date of such a reappraisal.

Tuvalu Prime Minister Enela warned that his island nation and others face potential extinction if temperatures continue to rise.

“Let’s achieve a legally binding agreement,” he said. “Let’s do it for Tuvalu. If we save Tuvalu, we save the world.”

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