Monday, October 18

We are on the brink of catastrophe, warns the conservative climate chief | Climate change

The world will soon face a climate collapse “catastrophe” if urgent action is not taken, the British president warned of vital UN climate talks.

Alok Sharma, the UK minister in charge of the Cop26 talks to be held in Glasgow this November, told the Observer that the consequences of failure would be “catastrophic”: “I don’t think there is another word for that. You are seeing what is happening around the world on a daily basis. Last year was the hottest on record, the last decade the hottest decade on record. “

But Sharma also insisted the UK could continue with fossil fuel projects, amid mounting criticism of plans to license new oil and gas fields. He defended the government’s record on plans to reach net zero emissions by 2050, which have been harshly criticized by the UK’s independent Climate Change Committee, and dismissed controversies over his travel schedule.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world’s leading authority on climate science, will release a comprehensive report on Monday showing how close humanity is to the brink of a potentially irreversible disaster caused by extreme weather.

“This will be the severest warning yet that human behavior is alarmingly accelerating global warming and that is why Cop26 has to be the time to get it right. We cannot afford to wait two years, five years, 10 years, this is the time, ”warned Sharma, in his first major interview since taking over the climate talks.

“I don’t think we are running out of time, but I think we are getting dangerously close to the time when we could be out of time. We will see [from the IPCC] a very, very clear warning that unless we act now, we will sadly be out of time. “

A railway bridge near Dernau in Germany destroyed by floods this month.
A railway bridge near Dernau in Germany destroyed by floods this month. Photograph: Action Press / Rex / Shutterstock

The consequences of global warming were already evident, he said. “We are seeing the impacts around the world, in the UK or the terrible floods that we have seen in Europe and China, or wildfires, the record temperatures that we have seen in North America. Every day you will see that a new high is registered in one form or another all over the world. “

It was not about abstract science, but about people’s lives, he added. “Ultimately this comes down to the very real human impact that it is having around the world. I have visited communities that, as a result of climate change, have literally had to flee their homes and move due to a combination of drought and floods. “

Sharma spoke exclusively to him Observer on the eve of the IPCC report to urge governments, businesses and individuals around the world to pay attention and push for stronger action on greenhouse gas emissions at the Cop26 conference, which said it would be almost the last chance.

“This [IPCC report] it’s going to be a wake-up call for anyone who hasn’t yet understood why this next decade has to be absolutely decisive in terms of climate action. We will also gain a fairly clear understanding that human activity is driving climate change at an alarming rate, ”he said.

Disaster was not yet inevitable, and actions now could save lives in the future, he added: “Every fraction of a degree increases [in temperature] it makes a difference and that is why countries have to act now ”.

As chairman of Cop26, Sharma faces a formidable task: The current national plans of many countries to reduce emissions are inadequate and would take the world well beyond the 1.5 ° C of warming that the IPCC warns is the safe threshold. It must persuade countries such as China, India, Russia, Australia, and Brazil to come up with credible commitments and policies to cut emissions, as well as extract pledges of cash from the US, the EU, and other wealthy nations to meet a Long-standing unfulfilled commitment of £ 100 billion a year in climate finance for the developing world.

Green activists have warned that the UK is losing credibility on the world stage at a vital time. The ministers face a legal challenge over their support for the new Cambo oil field, while other new North Sea exploration licenses were opened earlier this year and a potential new coal mine in Cumbria is not ruled out.

The Bozhong 13-2 field in the Bohai Sea, where China is opening a new oil and gas field.
The Bozhong 13-2 field in the Bohai Sea, where China is opening a new oil and gas field. Photograph: Xinhua / Rex / Shutterstock

These decisions are made despite a warning from the International Energy Agency, the world’s energy watchdog, in May that all exploration and development of new fossil fuels around the world must cease this year to have the possibility of limiting heating to 1.5 ° C.

“Future [fossil fuel] licenses will have to comply with the fact that we have committed to reaching net zero by 2050 in legislation, ”said Sharma. “There will be a weather check on all licenses.”

Rachel Kennerley, a climate activist with Friends of the Earth, responded: “This is a categorically incorrect approach, unnecessarily leading things to the bottom line. [in reaching net zero emissions by 2050]. Every year, every month, every day that we delay makes the climate crisis more dangerous and costly to solve. How much better if the minister convinced everyone of the merits of investing instead in clean jobs with a long-term future ”.

Sharma has also faced criticism in recent days for his air travel to red-list countries, visiting at least 30 countries in the past seven months without quarantine upon his return. He was exempt from isolation requirements, as were many other workers under government rules. Seeing other countries’ ministers in person had been essential, he said, to building trust and reaching agreements before Cop26, when he will face the task of uniting 197 countries in consensus to maintain the 1.5C goal, and each must establish make detailed plans to do so.

Sharma said he was “flushing down the kitchen sink” in his efforts to come to an agreement. “I have a lot of virtual meetings every week, but I can tell you that having face-to-face meetings with individual ministers is incredibly vital and really impactful,” he said. “It makes a vital difference, building those personal relationships that will be incredibly important as we seek to build consensus.”

Boris Johnson, the prime minister, was also deeply engaged, Sharma insisted, despite jeers from Labor leader Keir Starmer last week that Johnson was “missing in action”, having made no major intervention yet at Cop26, and was offering “a cabaret of sound bites”. Instead of politics. “The prime minister is on the front line, I have a regular dialogue with him,” Sharma said. “He speaks regularly with world leaders, advocating for the need for more climate action.”

Several prominent conservatives have also attacked the government’s green stance in recent weeks, rejecting measures to ban gas boilers and complaining about rising energy prices. Sharma used his first major interview as the clock ticks towards Cop26 to paint a picture of a healthier world at hand, if companies and investors could be convinced to seize the opportunities. “If we do this right, we can have a healthier planet, a cleaner planet, and we can have economic growth with high value-added jobs.”

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