World is on track to finalise climate deal: UN

SINGAPORE (The Straits Times/ANN) - Extreme events like devastating floods, record heat make bid for pact more urgent

The world is on track to agree to the rules of a sweeping deal that aims to put the brakes on climate change, the UN's climate chief said yesterday. But a lot of negotiation remains ahead of key talks in December.

These face added urgency as the impact of climate change - from floods, heatwaves, droughts and rising sea levels - becomes ever more apparent. Record-breaking heat in the Northern Hemisphere in recent weeks and unprecedented rain in Japan have killed scores of people, showing that weather extremes have become the new normal.

"It's actually surprising to me that people are surprised every time something like this is happening," said Ms Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

She said the world is far from drastically cutting greenhouse gas emissions, blamed for heating up the planet, and echoed a recent statement by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres that said climate change is happening faster than human action to curb it.

Speaking to The Straits Times on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Climate Week held in Singapore, she said she is hopeful of getting a deal at the UN talks from Dec 3 to 14.

Negotiators from nearly 200 nations will meet in Katowice, Poland, to finalise the main rules to put the 2015 Paris climate pact into full operation.

Under the Paris Agreement, nations agreed to limit warming to less than 2 deg C and aim for a 1.5 deg C rise to try to minimise the impact of more extreme weather and rising seas that threaten to wipe out many low-lying island nations.

Signatories also agreed to progressively ramp up their emission cuts and allow their plans to be scrutinised. Financing for poorer nations is also part of the deal. Since Paris, negotiators have been working on the mechanisms to put all this into action in a transparent way.

"I have to say I am encouraged because all these statements I hear from everywhere. everybody is really committed to having a successful outcome from Poland," Ms Espinosa said. The aim was to put the Paris pact into force some time in 2020, she added.

Asked if the Trump administration's intention to withdraw from the Paris pact was affecting the negotiations, she said: "I would say that people are moving forward. Everybody has committed."

But she added that the negotiations still needed the full support of politicians. Singapore is helping by working to find solutions, she said.

"Singapore has a very strong credibility and I would say a well-deserved high stature in these negotiations because of its diplomacy. Its representatives have consistently been really looking for solutions, being constructive."

She added that Singapore's experience in managing its economy and emissions, despite its limited natural resources, was an example to other nations.

While current emission reduction pledges globally are far from where they need to be, Ms Espinosa said she was encouraged by the speed of change in some areas.

"We are seeing transformation in some sectors and in many countries at a pace that we did not imagine just a few years ago. Renewable energy for sure, that's one. Also electric vehicles as well.

"It's a moment where we have very mixed signals. Yes, the problem is very bad, it's getting worse. At the same time, the responses and capacity to find solutions are quicker than what we thought just a few years ago."

She added that while the ongoing negotiations were very technical, it was important to bring things down to the level of ordinary people.

Last month, she visited the Pacific island nation of Tuvalu, which is increasingly threatened by rising sea levels. She said she was moved by the people's resilience, adding: "It makes me even more motivated because I can understand (their challenges) when I see the negotiators from the islands."

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