Glasgow climate summit at risk of failure, warns UN chief

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres during an interview at the UN Headquarters. Source: Reuters

NEW YORK: United Nations chief Antonio Guterres said a critical meeting on climate change later this year in Scotland is at risk of failure due to mistrust between developed and developing countries and a lack of ambitious goals among some emerging economies.

The UN COP26 conference in Glasgow aims to wring much more ambitious climate action and the money to go with it from participants around the globe. Scientists said last month that global warming is dangerously close to spiralling out of control.

“I believe that we are at risk of not having a success in COP26,” Guterres said in an interview at UN headquarters in New York. “There is still a level of mistrust, between north and south, developed and developing countries, that needs to be overcome.”

“We are on the verge of the abyss and when you are on the verge of the abyss, you need to be very careful about what the next step is. And the next step is COP26 in Glasgow,” he said.

Guterres and Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson will on Monday host a meeting of world leaders on the sidelines of the annual high-level week of the UN General Assembly in a bid to build the chances of success at the climate conference, being held from October 31 to November 12.

“My objective and the reason why we are convening a meeting on Monday is exactly to build trust, to allow for everybody to understand that we all need to do more,” Guterres said.

“We need the developed countries to do more, namely in relation to the support to developing countries. And we need some emerging economies to go an extra mile and be more ambitious in the reduction of air emissions,” he said.

Monday’s meeting, which will be both virtual and in-person, will be closed to allow for “frank and open discussions” on how to deliver success in Glasgow, said a senior UN official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

US, China need to ‘do their part’

The world remains behind in its battle to cut carbon emissions and the pace of climate change has not been slowed by the global COVID-19 pandemic, the World Meteorological Organization said. Scientists said last month that unless big action is taken to cut emissions, the average global temperature is likely to hit or cross the 1.5-degree Celsius warming threshold within 20 years.

“Until now, I have not seen enough commitment of developed countries to support developing countries … and to give a meaningful share of that support to the needs of adaptation,” said Guterres.

Developing countries tend to be the most vulnerable to costly climate impacts, and the least resourced to deal with them. For years, they have been struggling to secure the funds to help them prepare for climate disruptions that rich nations pledged in 2009 to ramp up to $100 billion annually.

So far, the money that has arrived has focused on emissions reduction rather than adaptation. Of the $78.9 billion in climate finance transferred by rich countries in 2018, only 21% was spent on adaptation, OECD data shows.

When asked whether companies that develop carbon capture technology should have to issue patent waivers so those advances can be shared, Guterres said: “Any development in that area should be a global public good and should be made available to all countries in the world.”

He noted: “We have not yet seen results that confirm those technologies will be a key element to solve the problem.”

Guterres played down the impact that the relationship between China and the United States will have on their cooperation on climate change. “They are a multilateral issue,” said Guterres. “So my appeal to both the United States and China is for each of them to do their part.”

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