Irish Times view on the Madrid climate conference

Time for the rich world to step up

Members of Extinction Rebellion stage a protest at Cibeles Fountain during the UN climate change conference (COP25) in Madrid last week. Photograph: Sergio Perez/Reuters

Members of Extinction Rebellion stage a protest at Cibeles Fountain during the UN climate change conference (COP25) in Madrid last week. Photograph: Sergio Perez/Reuters

 

A disconnect between the latest scientific warnings and political action in addressing the climate crisis was all too evident as the annual UN negotiations opened in Madrid last week. There was understandable disarray given COP25 – being attended by leaders from almost 200 countries – had to be hastily relocated to Spain due to civil unrest in Chile. But the latest scientific evidence stood out above all that and has never been clearer.

Global temperatures are on track to rise by an intolerable 3.2 degrees, and sea levels are set to increase by more than one metre this century, if the world continues with half-hearted commitments to reduce emissions, persists in enabling expansion of the fossil fuel sector and allows carbon polluters to continue in business-as-usual mode.

Emissions may be growing at a slower rate but the world is far from achieving the drastic reductions needed to avert catastrophic global warming, according to the Global Carbon Project.

The European Environment Agency’s five-year report on the state of Europe put it starkly as far as wealthy countries – which generate by far the most emissions – are concerned. Current responses to biodiversity loss combined with global heating risk undermining the continent’s prosperity. “Pursuing growth at the expense of the environment is no longer an option. Marginal efficiency gains are not enough,” it declared.

UN secretary general António Guterres warned at the opening session it is “almost too late”, and asked: “Do we want to be remembered as the generation that buried its head in the sand and fiddled as the planet burned?”

COP25 is moving into the business end of the two-week talks. A rulebook on implementing the Paris Agreement from next year needs to be signed off, reinforced by transparency on how the world measures emissions and trades in carbon.

Developed countries need to step up and help poor countries already suffering due to climate disruption. Most important of all, big emitting countries have to commit to climate actions that will force their emissions trajectories downwards.

Guterres will need to apply much guile and diplomatic clout in demanding China, Russia, India and Japan take the lead – the US under president Donald Trump is in effect outside the Paris process but no less culpable.

Twenty of the wealthiest countries generate 81 per cent of emissions. Their national policies determine whether the carbon intensity of global economic growth can be curtailed. UN analysis suggests a 7.6 per cent a year emission decline for the next decade is needed to limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees. Yet emissions have increased 3 per cent over the past three years, led by China, the US and India. COP25 has to end the shocking lack of urgency.

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