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World Leaders Respond To Climate Report With Calls For Urgency — And Anger Toward Rich Countries

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Officials around the world sounded the alarm on Monday over a harrowing new report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change urging immediate action to limit global heating, with markedly hostile tones towards rich countries setting the stage for tense negotiations at the global climate summit in November.  

Key Facts

Human activities are responsible for “unprecedented” and possibly irreversible changes to the climate and have made extreme heatwaves, droughts and flooding more likely, the IPCC panel warned Monday, though drastic and immediate cuts to greenhouse gas emissions could help stave off catastrophic temperature increases.

Former Sec. of State John Kerry, President Joe Biden’s special envoy for climate, said the report “underscores the overwhelming urgency of this moment” and called for the upcoming COP26 summit in Glasgow to be a “turning point in this crisis,” with energy secretary Jennifer Granholm telling the world to “move faster to deploy, deploy, deploy clean energy.”   

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the “sobering” report makes it clear the world must “consign coal to history and shift to clean energy sources, protect nature and provide climate finance for countries on the frontline.” 

Officials across Europe echoed the sentiments and German development minister Gerd Mueller said the report underscored the need for a “global green deal,” a strategy that does not leave less-wealthy countries behind and the need to ensure hundreds of new coal-fired power stations—or, as Mueller calls them, “climate killers”—never go online.      

Former Maldives president Mohamed Nasheed, who is ambassador for the climate vulnerable forum representing 48 of the most at-risk nations from climate change, took a different tone, calling the report “devastating news” for those “on the front lines” of the climate crisis and confirming the need to “urgently shift focus” to ensuring those facing “climate-driven disasters” today survive. 

India’s environment minister Bhupender Yadav also took aim at wealthier countries and said the report “reaffirms” India’s position that they are responsible for the climate crisis, adding that the report should serve as a “clarion call for the developed countries to undertake immediate, deep emission cuts.”

U.N. secretary general Antonio Guterres described the report as “code red for humanity” and a “death knell for coal and fossil fuels, before they destroy our planet.”  

Crucial Quote

Nasheed said it is important the world “never forget the fundamental injustice at the heart of the climate emergency… We are paying with our lives for the carbon someone else emitted.”

Key Background 

The IPCC report released Monday is the most up-to-date assessment of climate science today based on more than 14,000 papers examined by a group of international experts. It shows greenhouse gases from human activities are responsible for 1.1C of warming since the second half of the 19th century that are an “unequivocal” result of human actions. The strong and precise wording is a departure from previous reports by the group—this is the sixth—which were more cautious in blaming human actions. Previous IPCC reports have been tied to major policy developments—including the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1990, the Kyoto Protocol in 1995 and the Paris Agreement in 2013-14—and this report will lay the foundations for a conference in Glasgow, Scotland, in November. Fairness has often taken center-stage in negotiations. Heavily polluting nations like India and China are often criticized by wealthier nations for not doing enough to rein in emissions—former President Trump did so frequently—which is often used to justify avoiding action to address their own emissions. However, looking at just emissions ignores consumption patterns of the wealthy (with production often outsourced, along with the associated carbon footprint, to less affluent nations), the uneven size of different nations (on a per capita basis, India and China’s emissions are far lower than totals suggest) and the historic carbon footprint many richer nations racked driving their development. 

Tangent

The U.S. is the second-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world and has the largest cumulative carbon footprint by far. President Joe Biden has set ambitious targets to fulfill his climate goals, including halving greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and reaching a net-zero economy by 2050.

What To Watch For

China and Russia, the first and fourth largest emitters of carbon dioxide in the world in 2019, have not yet commented on the report (the U.S. and India are second and third, respectively) and will be key players in upcoming negotiations. China has vowed to reach peak emissions by 2030 and to be carbon neutral by 2060, though no plan for achieving these goals has been made public and coal-fueled power plants—one of the most polluting forms of energy generation—are being built and even reopened across the country. Russia, though a signatory to the Paris Agreement, has few policies in place to meet climate goals. 

Big Number

4. That’s how many G20 nations have climate targets that would lead to disastrous warming, experts warned. China, Russia, Brazil and Australia all have energy policies that would lead to catastrophic temperature rises of 5C.    

Further Reading

‘Code Red For Humanity’: Humans Driving ‘Unprecedented’ Climate Change, U.N. Report Finds (Forbes)

Diagnosing Earth: the science behind the IPCC’s upcoming climate report (Nature)

Major Atlantic Current May Be On The Verge Of Collapse, Scientists Warn (Forbes)

 Global Warming of 1.5 ºC (IPCC Report)



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