World

Next year crucial in climate war: UN chief

By AAP Newswire

The UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has issued dire warnings from the podium at the UN climate summit in Madrid, saying that "the next 12 months will be crucial."

"The world is getting hotter and more dangerous faster than we ever thought possible. Irreversible tipping points are within sight and hurtling towards us," he said on Wednesday.

Referring to one of the goals of the Paris Agreement to limit global warming, Guterres said "the 1.5-degree limit is still within reach" but he added that "we are a long way behind."

To stop the world warming more than this would mean implementing measures including building no new coal power stations after 2020, and getting countries and whole industry sectors such as shipping to pledge to be carbon neutral in the coming decades, he said.

He called for "more ambition, more solidarity and more urgency."

The World Economic Forum (WEF) joined the call on governments and companies to cut their emissions in a study published earlier on Wednesday.

So far, only 67 of the UN's 193 member states, together responsible for less than 15 per cent of global emissions, have committed to the goal of achieving net-zero carbon emissions, the WEF study noted.

The study criticised the world's largest carbon dioxide emitters for not doing enough to address the problem.

"China, which is responsible for a quarter of current global emissions, has reportedly resumed construction of the world's largest pipeline of new coal power plants," the study said.

In the US, which is responsible for the planet's largest share of accumulated atmospheric CO2, "senior government officials are openly denying climate science and backtracking on previous regulations and international commitments, including their commitment to the Paris Agreement," the authors wrote.

Stronger words came from Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, a member of a climate emergency panel at the conference.

"Finding holistic solutions is what the COP [UN climate conference] should be all about. But instead it seems to have turned into some kind of opportunity for countries to negotiate loopholes and to avoid raising their ambition," she said.

"Countries are finding clever ways around having to take real action, like double-counting emission reductions," Thunberg added.

She castigated leaders for their failure to act, saying, "There is no sense of urgency whatsoever. Our leaders are not behaving as if we were in an emergency, in an emergency you change your behaviour."

She argued that as global temperatures rise, "even at one degree, people are dying from the climate crisis," and added that every fraction of a degree matters, "so that we have the best possible chance to avoid setting off irreversible chain reactions such as melting glaciers, polar ice and thawing Arctic permafrost."

Thunberg called on the wider public to act too, saying, "Every great change throughout history has come from the people. We do not have to wait, we can start the change right now, we the people."