UN climate chief urges speed as NASA reports record warming

Baking temperatures in April, forest fires and drought underline need to implement Paris Agreement says Christiana Figueres

UN climate chief Christiana Figueres, France foreign minister Laurent Fabius and Laurence Tubiana, top French climate envoy (Pic: UNFCCC/Flickr)


Record global temperatures, raging forest fires and multiple droughts should spur countries to start ramping up greenhouse gas cuts, the UN’s climate chief warned in Bonn on Monday.

New data from NASA indicates last month was the hottest April since records began in the late 1800s, and the seventh month in a row to break warming records.

“We have seen a series of months and years of constantly breaking previously records,” said Christiana Figueres, who steps down in July after six years running UN climate talks.

“It is partly human and man-made… at the moment we have a current record combination of El Nino which is a completely natural phenomenon and the overlay of climate change which is man-made.”

Recent wildfires in Canada forced 80,000 to leave their homes, while severe drought in India and East Africa has left millions struggling with failed crops and at risk of famine.

These events are “all reminders” said Figueres that countries need to move fast and deliver on the 2015 Paris Agreement, which aims to limit warming to well below 2C above pre-industrial levels.

– Is the atmosphere still warm and positive?
– Has work on a transparency mechanism started?
– Does the role, powers of a 2018 ‘stocktake’ look clearer?
– Do rich countries have a roadmap to generate $100bn by 2020?
– Is it clear what the COP22 Marrakech summit will deliver?

Envoys from 195 countries, the EU and, for the first time, Palestine have gathered in the former West German capital Bonn for two weeks of talks on tackling global warming.

The event marks the first time countries have gathered in such numbers to take part in negotiations, and comes weeks after over 170 governments signed the deal at a New York ceremony.

Few analysts believe it will come into force before 2017, needing 55 countries covering 55% of emissions to formally approve the pact.

So far just 16 – mostly small island states – have done so, with the US and China expected to swell those ranks by the close of the year.

Widely acclaimed as a diplomatic triumph, the deal was just the “foundations” of a wider series of decisions required, France’s environment minister and president of the talks Segolene Royal told delegates.

“You will need to define rules and mechanisms that will help all our countries to implement the Paris Agreement, and transform and develop their economies,” she said.

“You will need to approach it in the same spirit that enabled the success of Paris and as circumstances demand.”

Quiet start

Opening statements from the major negotiating blocs that dominate the UN process were mainly positive, but offered little sense of where major problems could blow up.

“I must warn against the possible disease that we shouldn’t be made dizzy by success or euphoria and focus attention on [the] challenges,” said veteran Russia envoy Oleg Shamanov.

The 135-strong G77 + China group emphasised the need for the EU, US and other historically wealthy countries to meet a 2020 goal to deliver $100 billion a year in climate finance.

It also stressed it saw assistance and compensation for countries needing to adapt to extreme weather events brought on by rising temperatures as an “urgent priority”.

Speaking for the EU, Dutch official Ivo de Zwaan emphasised its view that a proposed 2018 ‘stocktake’ of global efforts and a mechanism to account and verify for emissions cuts should dominate talks.

Meanwhile envoys from the Philippines, Honduras, Panama and the Maldives were among those to claim climate change was already affecting their countries.

“Our goal is 1.5C and we are all bound to take actions to achieve this,” said Manila’s representative, referring to a new commitment by all countries in Paris to try and limit warming.

Blank deal

Still, despite evident goodwill and the basis of a global deal to start work, many civil society representatives said progress since Paris had been lamentable.

“We’re looking at devastating climate impacts biting across huge swathes of the planet. We’re getting a glimpse of a future none of us want to see,” said ActionAid’s Teresa Anderson.

She argued the deal “lacks rules or the tools” to meet its aspiration of limiting temperatures to below 1.5C, suggesting governments are relying on untested technologies like geoengineering or mass planting of trees and other crops to suck up vast quantities of carbon dioxide.

Writing in Climate Home, Christian Aid senior climate advisor Mohamed Adow said governments need a “kick up the backside” to ratify the deal and ratchet up their planned carbon cuts.

“The first round of contributions is just not sufficient – not if we’re serious about the Paris goal of keeping the warming ‘well below 2C’ and to work towards 1.5C – so this is imperative,” he said.

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