By Kofi Adu Domfeh
The High-Level Segment of the UN Climate Change Conference COP25 kicked off on Tuesday, with urgent reminders that the international community is running out of time to effectively tackle the climate crisis and must change course and step up ambition in order to prevent the worst climate impacts.
Speaking at the opening, Petteri Taalas, Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), pointed out that two climate statements published by his organization this year are not good news.
“Global warming continues. The average global temperature has risen by about 1.1°C since the pre-industrial era and the ocean has warmed by half a degree. 220 million people suffered from heatwaves last year. We have started seeing growth in hunger once again. Now we have more than 800 million people suffering from lack of food,” he said.
COP25 President and Chile’s Environment Minister Carolina Schmidt warned that droughts, fires and floods are hitting the people in her region, Latin America and the Caribbean, with the most vulnerable being the hardest hit.
Similar concerns have been raised by the African Group at the talks.
“This conference must change the course of action. A change of course in ambition by bringing new actors to the table: Regional, local and city governments and the sector both productive and financial. Because action is not and should not be just a political issue. National commitments are necessary but not sufficient. No one can be left out,” said Carolina.
She pointed out that the Chilean COP Presidency had for the first time brought on board not just environment ministers, but ministers of agriculture, science, energy and not least finance who “hold the purse strings” for climate action.
Ghana’s Minister for Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation, Prof. Kwabena Frimpong-Boateng, who is leading the Ghanaian delegation to the conference, is emphasizing the special needs and circumstances of Africa and the urgent need for climate action now.
Also of interest to him is the need to increase ambition to meet the 2 degrees set by the Paris Agreement, completions of work under Article 6 for Market and Non-Market mechanisms which Ghana is planning to pilot with the government of Switzerland, increase in finance for developing countries especially for Adaptation and the need to protect the ocean as an integral part of the earth climate system.
Civil Society continues to focus on the needs of the most vulnerable developing countries who are already facing losses and damages from the effects of climate change.
“The business as usual posture must end. The vulnerable people in Africa want to see real climate action on the ground and it behooves on the world leaders to do the right thing, to finance climate action and pay for the harm done through their activities,” said Dr. Mithika Mwenda of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA).
Executive Secretary of UN Climate Change (UNFCCC), Patricia Espinosa, has made a passionate appeal to Ministers to make progress during the last remaining days of the COP:
“On both a professional and personal level, my message to you is this: We need your decisions. We need your leadership. We are out of time.”
The UN’s top climate change official also said she was optimistic that progress could be made, given that the Paris Agreement remained an “unprecedented multilateral success story,” with the bulk of the operationalizing guidelines already agreed. “Because of your work, the cornerstones of the Paris Agreement are in place and fully functioning,” she said.
Whilst there are many facets of climate action, and progress needs to be made on finance, technology and capacity building, one key topic that needs to be resolved at COP25 and is crucial to raise climate ambition is the use of carbon markets in order to tackle climate change.
“We recognize that a lot of technical work on this issue will remain for the future… but an agreement here in Madrid is crucial. We’ve made progress in the last few days, but we need to push on and finalize our work,” she said.
“Article 6 is the only part of the Paris Agreement that directly engages with the private sector, helping them contribute to climate action and, ultimately, to the implementation of NDCs,” she added.
NDCs are “Nationally Determined Contributions” – national climate action plans under the Paris Agreement. By COP26 next year, new and updated NDCs will be submitted.
“2020 is only a few weeks away—the year when we must see more climate ambition reflected in new and revised NDCs. Without them, our window of opportunity closes,” Patricia Espinosa concluded.
Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, President of the UN General Assembly, pointed out that global greenhouse gas emissions need to peak fast, and that solutions to climate change exist. “But any delay will come at a high cost,” he warned.