Climate change is an “emergency situation” that calls for countries to urgently make greater commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions as they gather this week in Poland, U.N. General Assembly President Maria Fernanda Espinosa told Bloomberg Environment Dec. 2.
Mounting scientific evidence shows that climate change is even more urgent than it was just three years ago—when the Paris Agreement was struck—and many countries are realizing they must cut more carbon pollution in order to avoid the worst consequences of climate change, Espinosa said.
She spoke in an interview with Bloomberg Environment as the two-week-long U.N. climate change conference, or COP24, began in Katowice, Poland.
With a backdrop of acrid lung-burning air polluted by coal-burning furnaces in homes and businesses throughout southern Poland, representatives of more than 190 countries are spending the next two weeks negotiating the final rules to turn the 2015 Paris climate accord into action.
‘It is Happening Now’
Since the Paris pact was struck, major hurricanes and typhoons have devastated parts of Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, the Phillippines, and other island nations.
“We are in an emergency situation because it so happens that climate change—we started the climate negotiations with something we thought was going to happen in the future,” Espinosa said. “Now it is obvious it is happening now. It is devastating entire countries and economies.”
New scientific evidence, including two U.N. climate reports published since October, says that countries have not committed to big enough carbon pollution cuts to avoid some of the worst impacts of climate change. They also say big changes are needed by 2030.
With that in mind, the climate conference has two objectives:
- First, to complete the rules for how the Paris pact will be implemented, including details about how countries will be held accountable for their commitments to cut climate pollution.
- The second goal is to make headway on urging countries to cut even more carbon because scientific research shows that the cuts they committed to in 2015 won’t be enough to avoid the worst consequences of climate change.
As rising seas begin to swallow low-lying island nations, affecting indigenous communities across the globe, at stake in international climate talks are the rights of people to live in their country of origin and to their livelihoods, Espinosa said.
The talks are the third U.N. climate conference Poland has hosted, which illustrates the country’s commitment to the Paris Agreement, Espinosa said.
In the months ahead of the talks, Poland touted its desire to bolster its coal industry while capturing emissions from coal burning as a climate solution.
In a statement Dec. 2, Michal Kurtyka, the Polish president of the conference, called for countries to come together in Katowice and finish the details of the Paris accord so it can become “fully functional.”
“If you believe and trust an international rules-based system, whatever comes out of here, it’s going to provide the roadmap for countries to deliver” commitments to greater carbon cuts, Espinosa said.
“If you see the climate crisis as a puzzle—a whole complex landscape—we have the science, we have the knowledge, we have the technologies,” Espinosa said. “Now, it is about factoring in all these elements to deliver.”