Environmental activists protest against climate damage in Berlin, Germany, December 1 2018. Picture: REUTERS/FABRIZIO BENSCH
Environmental activists protest against climate damage in Berlin, Germany, December 1 2018. Picture: REUTERS/FABRIZIO BENSCH

Brussels — With the direst warnings yet of impending environmental disaster ringing in their ears, representatives of nearly 200 nations gathered in Poland on Sunday to firm up their plan to avert catastrophic climate change. 

The UN climate summit comes at a crucial juncture in humankind’s response to planetary warming. The smaller, poorer nations that will bear its devastating brunt are pushing for richer states to make good on the promises they made in the 2015 Paris agreement.

In Paris three years ago, countries committed to limit global temperature rises to well below 2°C, and to the safer cap of 1.5°C if at all possible.

But with only a single degree Celsius of warming so far, the world has already seen a crescendo of deadly wildfires, heatwaves and hurricanes made more destructive by rising seas.

In a rare intervention, presidents of previous UN climate summits issued a joint statement as the talks got under way in the Polish mining city of Katowice, calling on states to take “decisive action … to tackle these urgent threats”.

­“The impacts of climate change are increasingly hard to ignore,” said the statement, a copy of which was obtained by AFP. “We require deep transformations of our economies and societies.”

In Katowice, nations must agree to a rule book palatable to all 183 countries  that  ratified the Paris deal.

This is far from a given: the dust is still settling from US President Donald Trump’s decision to ditch the Paris accord.

G20 leaders on Saturday agreed on a final communique after their summit in Buenos Aires, declaring that the Paris agreement was “irreversible”.

But it said the US “reiterates its decision to withdraw” from the landmark accord.

Even solid progress in Katowice on the Paris goals may not be enough to  avert runaway global warming, as major climate reports have indicated.

Just this week, the UN’s environment programme said voluntary national contributions agreed on in Paris would have to triple if the world was to cap global warming below 2°C. For 1.5°C, they must increase fivefold.

While the figures are clear, global political consensus on how to tackle climate change remains elusive.

“Katowice may show us if there will be any domino effect” with US withdrawal, said Laurence Tubiana, CEO of the European Climate Foundation and a main architect of the Paris deal.

Brazilian president-elect Jair Bolsonaro, for one, has promised to follow the US lead during his campaign.

Even the most strident climate warnings — spiralling temperatures, global sea-level rises, mass crop failures — are something that many developed nations will only have to tackle in future.

But many other countries are already dealing with the droughts, higher seas and catastrophic storms that climate change is making worse.

“A failure to act now risks pushing us beyond a point of no return with catastrophic consequences for life as we know it,” Amjad Abdulla, chief negotiator for the Alliance of Small Island States, said of the UN talks.

A key issue up for debate is how the fight against climate change is funded, with developed and developing nations still worlds apart in their demands.

Poorer nations argue that rich countries, which are responsible for the vast majority of historic carbon emissions, must help others to fund climate action.

But wealthy states, led by the US, have so far resisted calls to be more transparent in how their contributions are reported, something that developing nations say is vital to form ambitious green energy plans.

“Developed nations led by the US will want to ignore their historic responsibilities and will say the world has changed,” said Meena Ramam of the Third World Network advocacy group.

“The question really is: how do you ensure that ambitious actions are done in an equitable way?” — AFP