MADRID – The UN’s climate change summit opened in the Spanish capital on Monday with leaders calling on countries to be much more ambitious in their efforts to tackle the climate emergency.
They warned that if action is not taken quickly, life on Earth risks catastrophic consequences in the future.
They also said scientific evidence must not be ignored.
Speaking during the opening ceremony of the COP25, a major two-week climate summit in Madrid, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the world stood “at a critical juncture in our collective efforts to limit dangerous global heating.”
He called on countries to be more ambitious in cutting their emissions, and said they needed to go above and beyond the commitments set out in the 2015 Paris Agreement.
“Today, we need to reduce emissions by 7.6 percent each year to reach our goals,” the UN chief pointed out.
He said under current conditions, global warming will be between 3.4-3.9 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, something that will have a “catastrophic” impact on the planet.
“The only solution is rapid, ambitious, transformative action by all–governments, regions, cities, businesses and civil society.”
He said the world would face one of two possibilities at the end of the next decade–either “we have sleepwalked past the point of no return” or we have embarked on a “path of hope.”
The second option is the “only way to limit global temperature rise to the necessary 1.5 degrees by the end of this century”–which would mean taking the path to sustainable solutions and leaving fossil fuels “in the ground.”
Referring to a wave of climate change protests around the world, Guterres said millions of people – particularly the young – are calling on leaders “to do more, much more.
“They know we need to get on the right path today, not tomorrow,” he said. “That means important decisions must be made now.
“If we don’t urgently change our way of life, we jeopardize life itself,” Guterres said.
Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, who is chairing the summit alongside Guterres, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Chile’s Minister of the Environment Carolina Schmidt, spoke during the summit’s inauguration too.
He said scientific evidence showed that humans were behind the damage caused to the “fragile equilibrium of life” on Earth and it is now up to humankind to repair the damage in order to avert “what is to come.”
The PM said “fortunately” there was only a “handful” of people who denied the scientific evidence on climate change and stressed: “There is no other alternative to acting on the facts.”
The summit, which ends on 13 December, is being held in Madrid after Chile backed out of hosting it owing to the ongoing unrest in the Latin American country. Chile still holds the presidency of the summit.
Chile’s president, Sebastian Piñera, was not in Madrid but he sent a video message in which he said science had made it clear that the world needed to be much more ambitious on its climate change commitments.
And it needed to accomplish them quickly, he said.
Indeed, the meeting in Madrid aims to expand national commitments from January 2020, when the Paris Agreement comes into force.
The world’s biggest polluters – the United States, China and India – were being represented at the summit by lower level delegates, while US President Donald Trump has already begun the process of abandoning the Paris Agreement.
South Korean President Hoesung Lee, who sits on a panel of experts that advises the UN, said climate change was real and lamented that the international community was behind in fighting it.
“We are not doing enough, we are not coming close,” Lee said.
The summit, which lasts a fortnight, will no doubt throw the topic of climate change action into the spotlight on the world stage once more.
Swedish teen activist Greta Thunberg, who hitched a ride on a sailing boat across the Atlantic, is expected to arrive in Madrid on Tuesday after she had to alter her travel plans when the summit moved from Chile to Europe.
Chile and Spain hope the conference will open a new phase in global climate action, which would not only involve the negotiators of the delegations representing central governments, but also local governments, regions and economic and social agents.