The world will soon face a “catastrophe” from climate degradation if urgent action is not taken, the British president has warned of vital UN climate talks.
Alok Sharma, the British minister in charge of the COP26 talks to be held in Glasgow in November, told the Observer that the consequences of failure would be “catastrophic”: “I think there is no other word. You see what is happening around the world on a daily basis. Last year was the hottest on record, the past decade the hottest decade on record.
But Sharma also insisted the UK could continue with fossil fuel projects, amid mounting criticism of plans to authorize new oil and gas fields. He defended the government’s record on plans to reach net zero emissions by 2050, which have been heavily criticized by the UK’s Independent Climate Change Committee, and dismissed controversies over its travel program.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world’s leading authority on climate science, will release a comprehensive report on Monday showing how mankind is on the brink of a potentially irreversible disaster caused by extreme weather conditions.
“This will be the most striking warning yet that human behavior is alarmingly accelerating global warming and that is why Cop26 must be the time when we do things right. We can’t afford to wait two years, five years, 10 years – now is the time, ”warned Sharma, in his first big 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 point where we might be running out of time. We will see [from the IPCC] a very, very clear warning that if we don’t act now, unfortunately we will run out of time. “
The consequences of global warming were already evident, he said. “We’re seeing the impacts across the world – in the UK or the terrible floods we’ve seen in Europe and China, or the wildfires, the record high temperatures we’ve seen in North America. Every day you will see a new high recorded in one way or another across the world. “
It was not about abstract science but about people’s lives, he added. “Ultimately it comes down to the very real human impact it has across the world. I have visited communities which, due to climate change, have literally had to flee their homes and relocate due to a combination of drought and flooding.
Sharma spoke exclusively to Observer on the eve of the IPCC report to urge governments, businesses and individuals around the world to heed it and push for stronger action on greenhouse gas emissions at the Cop26 conference, which, according to him, would be almost the last chance.
” This [IPCC report] is going to be a wake-up call for all those who have not yet understood why this next decade must be absolutely decisive in terms of climate action. We will also understand quite clearly that human activity is causing climate change at an alarming rate, ”he said.
The catastrophe was not yet inevitable, and actions now could save lives in the future, he added: “Every fraction of a degree increases. [in temperature] makes a difference and that is why countries must act now.
As President 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 warming that the IPCC will prevent. as the safety threshold. He must persuade countries like China, India, Russia, Australia and Brazil to make credible commitments and policies to reduce emissions, as well as to secure pledges of money from the United States, the EU and other rich countries to meet a long-standing unfulfilled pledge of £ 100 billion a year for climate finance in the developing world.
Environmental activists have warned that the UK is losing credibility on the world stage at a crucial time. 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 was not excluded.
The decisions come despite a warning from the International Energy Agency, the world’s energy watchdog, in May that all further exploration and development of fossil fuels around the world must cease this year to have any effect. chance of limiting warming to 1.5 ° C.
” To come up [fossil fuel] the licenses will have to respect the fact that we are committed to achieving net zero by 2050 in legislation, ”said Sharma. “There will be climate control on all licenses. “
Rachel Kennerley, climate activist at Friends of the Earth, replied: [in reaching net zero emissions by 2050]. Every year, every month, every day that we delay makes the climate crisis more dangerous and more costly to solve. So much the better if the Minister convinced everyone of the merits of investing instead in non-polluting jobs with a long-term future. ”
Sharma has also been criticized in recent days for her air travel to redlisted countries, visiting at least 30 countries in the past seven months without quarantine upon her return. He was exempted from the isolation requirements, as were many other workers under government rules. Seeing ministers from other countries in person had been essential, he said, to build confidence and reach agreements before Cop26, when it will have to bring 197 countries together in a consensus to meet the goal of 1, 5 ° C, each being required to define detailed plans to do so.
Sharma said he was “throwing out the kitchen sink” in an attempt 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, to build these personal relationships that are going to be incredibly important as we seek to build consensus. “
Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, was also deeply committed, Sharma insisted, despite taunts from Labor leader Keir Starmer last week that Johnson was ‘missing’, having yet made no major interventions on Cop26, and was offering “A cabaret of sound clips”. Instead of policies. “The Prime Minister is really on the front line, I have a regular dialogue with him,” Sharma said. “He speaks regularly with world leaders, advocating 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 her first big interview as time is running out until Cop26 to paint a picture of a healthier world at hand, if businesses and investors can be convinced to seize the opportunities. “If we do it right, we can have a healthier planet, a cleaner planet, and we can have economic growth with high value-added jobs. “