As the United Nations climate conference gets under way in Glasgow, world leaders will likely have their last chance to curtail the deadliest consequences of human-induced planetary warming.
Time is of the essence for the global conference, which starts on Sunday, where world leaders are being asked to promise more ambitious cuts in greenhouse gases to prevent greater temperature rises.
“The time has passed for diplomatic niceties,” said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in a tweet ahead of a meeting of the G20 group of big economies at the weekend.
The meeting has been hailed as a “best last chance” to stop the planet from warming 1.5 C above pre-industrial temperatures.
Here are five major talking points as we head into two weeks of big speeches and backroom meetings.
Increasingly extreme weather
Many countries have pledged to meet the goal of net-zero emissions by 2050 or 2060. But a report issued in September by the UN noted climate commitments were so weak that even if pledges are fulfilled temperatures will still rise about 2.7C this century.
This would unleash far more devastating effects than those already hammering countries around the world, from raging floods to out-of-control wildfires and super-storms.
“The world is on a catastrophic pathway to 2.7-degrees of heating,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres noted.
Rich vs developing countries
Beyond the technical negotiations about emissions, like agreeing on rules about how countries should report cuts to pollution or finalizing previous agreements, delegates at this year’s 2021 climate summit will also haggle on cash.
The cash part of that slogan is particularly tricky. Rich countries failed to deliver on a promise made at a previous climate summit to pay poorer ones $100 billion a year in climate finance by 2020 — an amount that covers neither the costs of adapting to changes nor greening economies.
Delegates from poor and vulnerable countries, some of whom are reportedly unable to attend the summit because of coronavirus restrictions and the cost of travel, are also calling for rich polluters to pay for losses and damages from climate change-fueled weather extremes they have done little to cause.
“This is all we hear from our so-called leaders — words that sound great but so far have not led to action,” said climate activist Greta Thunberg at a pre-COP event in Italy last month. “Our hopes and ambitions drown in their empty promises.”
Time is running out
According to a report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world has less than 10 years left to avoid potentially catastrophic impacts of a warming planet.
“The next 10-20 years will be critical to the survivability of the human species on the planet,” the report noted
About 70 countries so far have indicated they plan to achieve carbon neutrality goals by 2050.
However, the report noted that the world’s biggest economies – responsible for 80 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions – must lead the way in taking urgent action to avoid climate catastrophe.
“Saving this and future generations is a common responsibility. We are on the verge of the precipice. Wake up. Step back. Change course. Unite,” UN chief Guterres told world leaders in September.
Reasons for hope
While the grim reality of the climate emergency continues to become ever clearer, there is optimism its worst effects can still be avoided.
“The recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was a code red for humanity. But it also made clear that it is not too late to meet the Paris Agreement 1.5-degree target. We have the tools to achieve this target. But we are rapidly running out of time,” said Guterres.