Outgoing COP19 president, Polish Marcin Korolec (right) symbolically hands over his position to Peruvian Environment Minister Manuel Pulgar Vidal (left) during the opening of the 20th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP-20) at Lima, Peru, yesterday.
To fresh warnings and appeals to seize the political momentum, UN talks opened in Lima yesterday tasked with drawing the outlines of a 2015 deal to roll back climate change.
Gathering 195 states, the 12-day meeting also has to agree on the pact’s heart - a format for nations to make pledges to reduce earth-warming carbon pollution.
These national commitments would form the cornerstone of an unprecedented accord to be sealed in Paris in December 2015 and take effect by 2020.
“2014 is threatening to be the hottest year in history and emissions continue to rise. We need to act urgently,” Christiana Figueres, head of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), told delegates.
“We need to put on the table the draft of a new universal climate agreement,” she said, urging country negotiators to “make history”.
UN nations have vowed to limit global warming to two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-Industrial Revolution levels.
Scientists say earth is on course for roughly twice this amount by the end of the century - a recipe for worse droughts, floods, storms and rising seas. They warn that scant time is left to reduce heat-trapping emissions to safer levels.
Rajendra Pachauri, head of the UN’s panel of climate scientists, said the evidence was unequivocal. “Human influence on the climate system is clear,” he said.
“The more we disrupt our climate, the more we risk severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts. But fortunately we have the means to limit climate change, to build a more prosperous, sustainable future.”
The Earth League, an alliance of climate scientists, weighed in with an appeal for urgency. “Without collaborative action now, our shared earth system may not be able to sustainably support a large proportion of humanity in the coming decades,” it warned.
Reaching the 2C target is a political headache, requiring nations to crack down on energy inefficiency and switch from cheap but polluting fossil fuels to cleaner sources. Negotiations have been bedevilled for years by rifts between rich and poor over who should shoulder the burden - a row complicated by the rise of developing giants such as China, India, Indonesia and Brazil which are now massive carbon emitters.
Peruvian Environment Minister and conference chairman Manuel Pulgar-Vidal said it was time for unity. “We are here to build bridges,” he said. “We want this conference to create the kind of trust, the kind of opportunity and the kind of determination that we need to achieve the concrete agreement that the world needs.”
About 10,000 delegates, activists, journalists and backroom staff have been accredited for the conference, with some 40,000 police providing security.
Since September, top-level interest has hauled the climate issue out of the doldrums where it had lingered after a near-fiasco at a summit in Copenhagen in 2009.
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