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Espinosa Warns of ‘Catastrophic’ Consequences if COP 26 Fails

This story includes details about the impacts of climate change that may be difficult for some readers. If you are feeling overwhelmed by this crisis situation here is a list of resources on how to cope with fears and feelings about the scope and pace of the climate crisis.

With this year’s United Nations climate conference, COP 26, due to open in six days, a top climate official is warning of the “catastrophic” consequences of unchecked global heating, developing countries are objecting to universal net-zero by 2050 targets, a sprawling state fossil company is being redefined as a “climate project,” and Big Oil is no longer welcome at the climate table.

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The dire warning comes from UN climate secretary Patricia Espinosa, asserting that “global security and stability could break down, with migration crises and food shortages bringing conflict and chaos, if countries fail to tackle greenhouse gas emissions,” reports The Guardian.

“We’re really talking about preserving the stability of countries, preserving the institutions that we have built over so many years, preserving the best goals that our countries have put together,” said Espinosa, adding that the “catastrophic scenario” in such protections are lost would lead to “massive flows of displaced people.”

The impacts from unchecked global heating—she stressed food scarcity as a particular worry—”would leave a lot more people vulnerable to terrible situations, terrorist groups, and violent groups.”

But “so far, the commitments countries have made to reduce emissions fall short of the 45% cut, based on 2010 levels, that scientists say is needed by 2030 to limit global heating to 1.5°C,” The Guardian writes. 

In her urgent call for leadership and ambition at Glasgow, Espinosa warned that nations could well be asked to revise their individual climate plans, or Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), far more quickly than the five-year interval laid out in the Paris climate agreement, simply because there isn’t any time left to waste.

“It is probably not the most attractive idea to government representatives—when you have finished the plan, come back and tell all those involved, ‘OK, now you have to continue revising your plan’,” she said. “But this is the biggest challenge humanity is facing, so we really don’t have an option.” 

And “we know that situations change, technologies change, processes change, so there’s always room for improvement.”

While acknowledging that a number of key leaders, including China’s Xi Jinping, are unlikely to attend, Espinosa insisted that those absences should not be read as a death knell for the high-stakes COP summit. “I don’t have any information about President Xi’s presence but I continue to engage with the Chinese delegation, and there is very important engagement by China in the process,” she said.

But new reports in the last few days have tracked some of the other challenges accumulating in the lead-up to the COP.

• Citing pandemic travel restrictions, seven of the 21 Pacific small island states will not be sending leaders or ministers to the conference, planning instead to assign representatives already stationed in either North America or Europe. 

“The lack of high-level representation from Pacific nations at the meeting has led to fears that the concerns of these countries, which are among those most at risk due to the climate crisis, will not be appropriately represented at the summit,” The Guardian writes.

• Russian President Vladimir Putin also cited pandemic concerns as the reason he will not be attending, Reuters says. “Russia is warming 2.8 times faster than the global average, with the melting of Siberia’s permafrost, which covers 65% of Russian landmass, releasing significant amounts of greenhouse gases.”

Among the horse-trading efforts from Moscow will be what Bloomberg dryly describes as Russia seeking to “protect the planet and Gazprom.” Casting the state-owned gas company as a “climate project”, now that it is being asked to slash its methane emissions, the Kremlin will be looking for the removal of international sanctions that it says currently stand in the way of the state colossal fossil receiving green financing.

• While United States President Joe Biden will surely be in attendance, his struggle to pass key climate legislation—made significantly more difficult by fossil-friendly Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV)—could “weaken the U.S’s negotiating position at COP 26 and therefore the hopes for global ambition,” writes Climate Home News.

International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) Chair Tara Shine said the world is watching, adding that “it is more difficult for least developed countries and other climate vulnerable countries to think that the U.S. can live up to other commitments if they see quite evidently that they’ve had these struggles.”

• Ministers from a group of 24 nations including China, India, Pakistan, and Vietnam have “issued a strong rebuke” to their U.K. host, describing the push to make net-zero by 2050 targets universal regardless of a country’s international development status “anti-equity and against climate justice,” Climate Home reports.

The ministers added that a just net-zero plan for the planet would require the world’s wealthiest countries to fully decarbonize by 2030, a commitment that would make good on historical responsibilities for the climate crisis while giving developing economies more time—and energy—to grow.

• Despite intense lobbying for a seat at the COP 26 table, fossil companies have been given the cold shoulder, The Guardian writes, on grounds that their net-zero plans don’t add up to a good-faith presence at the gathering.

“For years, oil companies have been given prominent platforms at the UN climate negotiations, promoting themselves as climate leaders while they continued to pour millions into new fossil fuels,” said Culture Unstained campaigner Chris Garrard. “So this is a big step forward.”