Weeks of torrential rain that has inundated parts of Southeast Asia and left millions swamped in Kerala in southern India, while the worst drought in 40 years has ravaged eastern Australia – these just the latest examples of extreme weather that is blamed on global warming.
But the advice from a top United Nations official tasked with drawing up guidelines to make the Paris Agreement on climate change work is that people around the world had better get used to it – things will only get worse if the rise in temperatures cannot be halted over coming decades.
Patricia Espinosa, who has flown to Bangkok for a week of talks to formulate global guidelines to address climate change, did not mince her words when she spoke to the press today.
“These extreme events won’t go away. They will only get worse, unfortunately. It’s going to be happening, so we need to adapt,” she told reporters at a press briefing.
Espinosa is a Mexican politician and diplomat who currently serves as the executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
“We need to address the challenge of climate change, diligently and efficiently. And in order to do that, we must bring the Paris Agreement into action.”
Negotiations had been going on since the Agreement was signed by 195 states in December 2015, she said. The current task is global guidelines that need to be written for a climate-change meeting in Katowice in Poland at the end of this year.
“The guidelines need to unlock practical actions and how to implement the [Paris] Agreement at the national level,” she explained, noting that the agreement was complex.
“We need to limit warming by 1.5 degrees (Celsius), which is necessary for many countries to survive,” she said.
Developing countries needed financial and technical support, plus cooperative assistance and help with capacity building.
‘Trust is very important’
Espinosa said countries all over the world had agreed to an agenda of joint action, “so trust is very important – everyone has to see that others are doing their share. We need increased action in all regions.
“The basic principle is that everyone has a responsibility but in different ways. That includes support for those suffering most from climate change.
“In many ways the future of humanity will be defined here. Asia has many many countries particularly vulnerable to climate change.”
“Negotiations are now addressing these issues – renewable sources of energy, buildings that are climate resilient.. there are different ways of assuming responsibility.”
Developed countries had pledged to cut their emission levels, while developing countries with lower emission levels were eligible to get support but were also doing a lot to counter warming.
“The complexity lies in trying to build a regime that takes all into account.”
Asked about the significance of the latest meeting being held in Asia, she said: “In many ways the future of humanity will be defined here. Asia has many many countries particularly vulnerable to climate change.”
The decision to meet in Bangkok was also linked to practical reasons, she said, as the UNFCCC had also “received very important support from the Thai authorities to make this happen”.
“We want regional platforms so actors from civil society, business and investors can come together, to exchange experiences on what has or hasn’t worked.
“There is definitely a big, big role that the Asian region has in our agenda, as well as for the whole world.”
Energy was a key sector, and developments in renewable energy had surpassed expectations. “No-one would have believed that prices [for solar power] are as low as they are now,” she said. “That’s a fantastic development. Our role is finding out where are more opportunities to employ these technologies.”
US still part of the process
Asked whether the United States was taking part in the latest talks, after President Trump’s announcement last year that the country would quit the global climate change deal, Espinosa said the US had a delegation in Thailand for this week’s meeting, which starts on Tuesday and continues until Sunday.
“Any party has a waiting period of three years before they can start a withdrawal [from the process],” she explained. “That cannot happen till 2020, till the waiting period has elapsed. So they continue participating in all discussions.”
She expected that a text would be negotiated so that by the end of the next meeting in Poland at the end of the year, countries would have guidelines to follow and “so we can give an assessment of how we’re going”.
The tricky part would be to find the right balance. “We can’t just focus on mitigation only. There has to be adaption for the most vulnerable developing countries, so they get the financial and technical support they need.”
The aim, meanwhile, was to try to avoid bigger natural disasters in the future. But she noted: “Many things that have taken us to where we are are irreversible. We want to avoid even worse [climate-driven] catastrophes.”
Threat to Japan
Japan, she noted, was a very vulnerable country because of the threat of sea-levels rising. “A big population will need to find other places to live.
“We’ll certainly see drought [in many countries] with temporary to permanent displacement, more scarcity of water and more difficulty with [growing] food. Climate is very closely related to natural disasters in all regions of the world.”
Sessions from the latest climate change talks are due to start at 10am Bangkok time on Tuesday until next Sunday. They will be broadcast live on the UNFCCC’s website and via Facebook, spokeswomen said.