Portugal has a very significant presence in the United Nations Global Climate summit (COP28) in the United Arab Emirates, which started last Thursday and runs until December 12.
It opened last week with an impassioned speech by António Guterres. The UN secretary-general told delegates from the more than 160 nations: “Humanity’s fate is hanging in the balance. This is a sickness only you global leaders can cure.” He pleaded for an end to dependence on fossil fuels and the long over-due promise of justice in the shape of funds to pay for the most devastating impacts of climate change in the world’s less developed and most vulnerable communities and countries.
The world is heating up at an unprecedented pace, according to the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO). It says that temperatures this year have risen to 1.4 Celsius above pre-industrial levels, just short of the critical 1.5C.
“We are living through climate collapse in real time,” the UN chief told COP28 delegates.
“This year has seen communities around the world pounded by fires, floods, and searing temperature – and the impact is devastating,”
He continued: “Record global heating should send shivers down the spines of world leaders. And it should trigger them to act.”
The record temperatures shattered this year have caused a trail of “devastation and despair,” says the WMO. It expects next year to be even hotter.
WMO data up to the end of October showed 2023 was about 1.4C (2.5F) above pre-industrial levels, driven largely by the continued rise in carbon emissions that the major polluting countries claim they are trying to reduce.
The WMO has pointed out that, “These are more than just statistics. Extreme weather is destroying lives and livelihoods on a daily basis – underlining the imperative need to ensure that everyone is protected by early warning services. We cannot return to the climate of the 20th century, but we must act now to limit the risks of an increasingly inhospitable climate in this and coming centuries.”
In his remarks to the COP28 summit, Mr. Guterres mentioned his recent trips to both Antarctica and Nepal where he witnessed at first-hand the extent of melting polar and glacier ice.
“These two spots are far in distance, but united in crisis,” said Mr. Guterres. It is just one symptom of the sickness bringing our climate to its knees, he said.
The former Portuguese prime minister also said that global heating is busting budgets, ballooning food prices, upending energy markets, and feeding a cost-of-living crisis.
“We are miles from the goals of the Paris Agreement – and minutes to midnight for the 1.5-degree limit.”
Mr. Guterres emphasized that the success of the Dubai conference will depend on the outcome of the so-named ‘Global Stocktake’ – where countries will for the first time assess progress on curbing global warming – which can get the world on track to achieve the temperature, finance, and adaptation goals.
He underscored that the stocktake must prescribe a credible cure for our ailing planet in three key areas.
The UN press office has explained: First, a drastic cut in emissions since current policies are leading us to an earth-scorching three-degree temperature rise.
Second, acceleration towards a just, equitable transition to renewables, since a burning planet cannot be saved with a firehose of fossil fuels. “The 1.5-degree limit is only possible if we ultimately stop burning all fossil fuels. Not reduce. Not abate. Phase out – with a clear timeframe aligned with 1.5 degrees.”
Third, fulfillment of the long overdue promise of climate justice in an unequal and divided world – a surge in finance, including for adaptation and loss and damage.
Mr Guterres has urged developed countries to double adaptation finance to $40 billion a year by 2025 and provide details on how they plan to deliver on the $100 billion promise for financial support for developing countries.
Joe Biden and Xi Jinping have been absent from this so-called “Action” COP summit, but Prime Minister António Costa has attended and welcomed delegates for the first time to Portugal’s own pavilion to hold side events. On previous COP gathering Portugal has shared the European Union’s overall space.
Portugal has an excellent record in dealing internally with climate change, particularly in the phasing out of fossil fuels and relying on renewables. It seems hypocritical that the current summit is being hosted by one of the world’s most fossil fuel producing countries, but there we are. And worse, the main greenhouse gas polluting countries – China, the United States, India and Russia – have long indulged in rhetoric about global warming, but hopelessly failed to deliver on promises of immediate action to adequately curtail the dire situation.