Climate chiefs warn 'world at crossroads'

7 days ago
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Climate chiefs warn 'world at crossroads'

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Media captionClimate change: How 1.5C could change the world

Four senior figures behind efforts to limit climate change have warned that the planet "is at a crossroads" as key talks opened a day early in Poland.

In a rare move, four former presidents of the United Nations-sponsored talks called for decisive action.

The meeting in Katowice is the most critical on climate change since the 2015 Paris agreement.

Experts say that drastic cuts in emissions will be needed if the world is to reach targets agreed in Paris.

Negotiators at the COP24 conference convened a day early because they are under pressure to make progress.

What's so different about this meeting?

This Conference of the Parties (COP) is the first to be held since the landmark Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on limiting global temperature rise to 1.5C came out in October.

The IPCC stated that to keep to the 1.5C goal, governments would have to slash emissions of greenhouse gases by 45% by 2030.

But a recent study showed that CO2 emissions are on the rise again after stalling for four years.

In an unprecedented move, four former UN climate talks presidents issued a statement on Sunday, calling for urgent action.

They say "decisive action in the next two years will be crucial".

"What ministers and other leaders say and do in Katowice at COP24 will help determine efforts for years to come and either bring the world closer to meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement - including protecting those most vulnerable to climate change - or push action further down the road.

"Any delay will only make it harder and more expensive to respond to climate change."

The statement was issued by Frank Bainimarama of Fiji, Salaheddine Mezouar of Morocco, Laurent Fabius of France and Manuel Pulgar Vidal of Peru.

Meanwhile, the gap between what countries say they are doing and what needs to be done has never been wider.

"The IPCC report made crystal clear that every bit of warming matters, especially for the least developed countries," said Gebru Jember Endalew, who chairs the group of poorest nations in the negotiations.

"It also gave some hope by confirming that limiting global warming to 1.5C is still possible. Here in Katowice, we must work constructively together to ensure that goal can become a reality."

In fact, so urgent is the task that some negotiators started their meetings on Sunday, a day before the official start.

Why is Sir David Attenborough attending?

The celebrated broadcaster and naturalist will be sitting in what's termed the "people's seat" at these talks.

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Media captionSir David Attenborough: Climate change is "the biggest threat to this planet in thousands of years"

The idea is for the occupant to represent the millions of people around the world who are being affected by climate change.

At the opening ceremony, politicians will hear Sir David give a speech made up of climate change comments submitted by the public.

Will global leaders be attending?

Yes, some 29 heads of state and government are due to give statements at the opening of the meeting.

The number is way down on the stellar cast that turned up in Paris in 2015, which perhaps indicates that many are seeing this as more a technical stage on the road to tackling climate change than a big bang moment.

But for the likes of China and the EU, the meeting is critical. They will want to show that international co-operation can still work even in the age of President Trump.

How years compare with the 20th Century average

So will cutting carbon be the main focus of the meeting?

Rather than spending all their time working on how to increase ambitions to cut carbon, conference delegates are likely to focus on trying to finalise the technical rules of how the Paris agreement will work.

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Image caption A collage of children's drawing about climate change laid out on a glacier in Switzerland

While the agreement was ratified in record time by more than 180 countries in 2016, it doesn't become operational until 2020.

Before then, delegates must sort out common rules on measuring, reporting and verifying (checking to avoid the misreporting of) greenhouse gas emissions, and on how climate finance is going to be provided.

"The rulebook is the thing that will absorb most of the negotiators' capacity at this year's COP," said Camilla Born, from the climate change think tank, E3G.

"It's no surprise, as agreeing the Paris rules is both technically and politically a complicated task - but it is worth it!"

Right now, that rule book runs to several hundred pages with thousands of brackets, indicating areas of dispute.

Guide: Climate crisis - how can I help?