Science warnings, US retreat add urgency to UN climate talks

Scientists say the time to act is now, if the world wants to meet the goal set in Paris of keeping global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit), ideally 1.5C by the end of the century. (Shutterstock)
Updated 30 November 2019

Science warnings, US retreat add urgency to UN climate talks

  • Study after study published in recent months has underscored the rapid pace of global warming and the need to cut emissions of greenhouse gases as soon as possible

MADRID: Mass protests, a last-minute venue change and talk of climate tipping points are adding some unplanned drama to this year’s international talks on tackling global warming.
Delegates from almost 200 countries had planned to put the finishing touches to the rules governing the 2015 Paris accord, ironing out a few wrinkles left over from last year’s conference in Katowice, Poland, and setting the scene for a major review of their efforts in 2020.
But then Brazil pulled its offer of hosting the talks and stand-in Chile, rattled by anti-government protests, canceled five weeks before the meeting. Next, President Donald Trump served formal notice that the United States was quitting the Paris accord, delivering a symbolic blow to one of his predecessor’s signature achievements.
And scientists? Well, they didn’t have any good news either. Study after study published in recent months has underscored the rapid pace of global warming and the need to cut emissions of greenhouse gases as soon as possible.
Against that backdrop, the Dec. 2-13 meeting in Madrid has gained fresh urgency.
“We have to do more in less time,” said Spain’s environment minister Teresa Ribera, whose country stepped in at short notice to host the talks, saying it wanted to support “constructive multilateralism” in the wake of Chile’s announcement and the US withdrawal.
Organizers expect around 25,000 visitors, including heads of state, scientists, seasoned negotiators and activists to attend the two-week meeting.
The main items on the agenda include finalizing rules on global carbon markets and agreeing how poor countries should be compensated for destruction largely caused by emissions from rich nations.
Proposals to create a worldwide market for emissions permits have been around for decades. The idea is that putting a price on carbon dioxide — the main greenhouse gas — and gradually reducing the available permits will encourage countries and companies to cut their emissions, notably by shifting away from fossil fuels toward renewable energy sources.
The European Union and some other jurisdictions already operate limited emissions trading systems, but efforts to roll these out worldwide have been hampered by fears that the lack of robust and transparent rules could corrupt the market.
“It would be great news to finalize this issue,” said Ribera. But she warned that the “solvency and integrity of the system” was a concern.
“If we cannot complete it correctly, it’s better to lay the ground for later completion,” said Ribera.
That view was echoed by Yamide Dagnet, a former EU climate negotiator now with the Washington-based environmental think tank World Resources Institute.
“Without proper oversight and robustness these mechanisms could severely undercut climate action by creating loopholes, letting countries off the hook for making meaningful emission cuts, resulting in double counting and jeopardizing environmental integrity,” she said.
The question of compensating poor countries for environmental destruction — technically referred to as loss and damage — is also likely to be sensitive, said Dagnet. Attributing specific weather disasters such as hurricanes and floods, or slow but irreversible changes like sea-level rise and desertification, to climate change remains a delicate issue given the potential sums involved.
Concerns about the cost of climate change are growing on all fronts. Trump cited financial demands on the United States as one of the reasons for quitting the Paris accord; European countries have hesitated to raise fuel prices for fear of sparking yellow vests-style protests like those seen in France; meanwhile, businesses are beginning to consider the price not just of reducing emissions but also of failing to do so.
Scientists say the time to act is now, if the world wants to meet the goal set in Paris of keeping global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit), ideally 1.5C by the end of the century. By some measures average temperatures have already increased by one degree Celsius since pre-industrial times, with the sharpest rise occurring in the last few decades.
“Global warming is going faster,” said Johan Rockström, co-director of Germany’s Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. “Climate impacts are occurring earlier and we are approaching potentially irreversible thresholds earlier than we previously thought.”
Rockström and several colleagues recently warned that the world is heading for several “ tipping points ” that could sharply accelerate the pace of climate change. They include deforestation in the Amazon and the decline of ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica.
Such messages resonate with environmental activists like Laura Laguna, a member of the Madrid chapter of Fridays for Future, one of the groups planning to protest during the climate talks, known as the 25th Conference of the Parties, or COP25.
“We are close to the point of no return on global warming,” Laguna said. “Our generation’s future depends on what we do now.”
Ribera, whose formal title is interim minister for ecological transition, indicated that European Union leaders may try to send a strong signal during the meeting that the bloc is prepared to make sharper cuts to its emissions than previously pledged. A recent proposal to aim for “climate neutrality” by 2050 failed to win support from all of the EU’s 28 member states — including the host of last year’s talks, Poland.


Rivals question front-runner Sanders’ electability at rowdy Democratic debate

Updated 26 min 32 sec ago

Rivals question front-runner Sanders’ electability at rowdy Democratic debate

  • ‘Bernie will lose to Donald Trump, and Donald Trump and the House and the Senate and some of the statehouses will all go red’
  • ‘I can tell you exactly how it all adds up. It adds up to four more years of Donald Trump’

CHARLESTON, South Carolina: Surging Democratic presidential front-runner Bernie Sanders came under withering fire in a boisterous debate in South Carolina on Tuesday, as rivals attacked the high cost of his ambitious economic agenda and warned he would cost the party the White House and control of Congress.

In a debate that featured candidates repeatedly shouting over one another and ignoring their time limits, Sanders’ opponents united in attacking the independent senator and self-avowed democratic socialist as a risky choice to lead Democrats against Republican President Donald Trump in November.

“Bernie will lose to Donald Trump, and Donald Trump and the House and the Senate and some of the statehouses will all go red,” billionaire former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said, adding that would be “a catastrophe.”

Pete Buttigieg, the moderate former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, criticized Sanders for the shifting estimates on the costs of his proposals such as government-run health care and questioned how he could get his agenda passed.

“I can tell you exactly how it all adds up. It adds up to four more years of Donald Trump,” Buttigieg said, adding that a Sanders race against Trump would be devastating to the country.

“If you think the last four years has been chaotic, divisive, toxic, exhausting, imagine spending the better part of 2020 with Bernie Sanders versus Donald Trump,” Buttigieg said.

Sanders defended his ability to pay for costly programs such as Medicare for All, which would replace private health insurance with a government-run program, and said he was raising issues supported by the American people.

“My favorability nationally, I believe, is the highest up here,” Sanders said in a reference to opinion polls, adding he beat Trump in most national surveys.

“If you want to beat Trump, what you’re going to need is an unprecedented grassroots movement of black and white and Latino, Native American and Asian, people who are standing up and fighting for justice. That’s what our movement is about,” Sanders said.

Sanders has taken command of the race after strong showings in the first three nominating contests in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada, and the debate was the last chance for his opponents to try to stop his momentum before Saturday’s South Carolina primary and next week’s 14 vital Super Tuesday contests.

Even Elizabeth Warren, a senator from Massachusetts and progressive ally of Sanders who is trying to revive a struggling campaign, took a swing at her old friend.

“I think I would make a better president than Bernie. And the reason for that is that getting a progressive agenda enacted is going to be really hard,” she said. “I dug in, I did the work, and then Bernie’s team trashed me.”

Senator Amy Klobuchar said neither Sanders nor Warren had shown the leadership in the Senate to accomplish much.

“It matters if you can actually get things done,” she said.