Government Inaction Puts World on Track for 'Catastrophic' Climate Change, U.N. Warns

A senior United Nations (U.N.) official has warned that government inaction has put the world on track to a catastrophic climate change situation, in which the global community fails to keep temperature rises below the vital 2 degree Celsius (3.6 degree Fahrenheit) cap.

The warning comes ahead of climate-change discussions in Bangkok, Thailand, this week. Patricia Espinosa, who is head of the Executive Secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), said nations have been too slow to reach to the threats posed by global warming.

In an interview with Reuters on Sunday, Espinosa said this year’s extreme weather is just a taste of what is to come, and that she hopes the heat waves, floods and forest fires seen across the globe “will create a bigger sense of urgency.”

RTS1X0FO Firefighters battle flames near Yosemite National Park, California, U.S., on August 6, 2018. This year's extreme weather events are believed to be linked to global climate change. Courtesy USFS/Yosemite National Park/Handout via REUTERS

In 2015, the Paris climate deal agreed to limit global warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The pact also said signatories would continue “pursuing efforts” for the more challenging target of 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Espinosa explained, “1.5 is the goal that is needed for many islands and many countries that are particularly vulnerable to avoid catastrophic effects. In many cases it means the survival of those countries. With the pledges we have on the table now we are not on track to achieve those goals.”

The 2015 agreement, while a landmark achievement, was somewhat vague on the details of how such a cap would be achieved. Signatories will meet again in December in Poland to agree rules for how to achieve its the goal of ended the fossil fuel era this century.  

Espinosa said she hopes the week-long talks in Bangkok will produce a draft text for negotiation on the deal’s rulebook. “This is a process that has been ongoing for some time. One of the reasons why this is so complex is because we are talking about... many different areas,” she explained. “One of those areas that countries need to take action on is to reduce their emissions.”

Both private and government financing is required, Espinosa said. While a pledge from rich nations to commit $100 billion each year is important, more will be needed. “There is a clear view that the $100 billion is only one part of the broad transformation of our societies that we are talking about,” she told Reuters.

The Paris agreement, signed by 195 countries and ratified by 180, faced opposition from the U.S. since President Donald Trump took office. In June 2017, Trump withdrew from the deal, claiming it would undermine the country’s economy and puts the U.S. at a “permanent disadvantage.”

Espinosa suggested such behavior demonstrates how some nations are not taking the threats of climate change seriously enough. But ignoring the problem does nothing to help. The vast majority of scientists and institutions agree that man-made global warming exists, and is getting worse.

This year, extreme weather events have been reported across the globe, and average temperatures have been significantly higher than previous years. “It really does make the evidence clear that climate change is having an impact on the daily lives of people,” Espinosa said.

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