The COP starts: “A call to increase ambition and urgency”

The first week of the UN conference on the climate (COP25) has started and while the atmosphere continues warming, here in Madrid, the air is not the best one! There is very little time left for the enthusiasm that usually characterizes the opening ceremonies of such big events. “The world has to choose between a path of hope and a path of surrender, a call to increase our ambition and urgency”, these are the hard words of the Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary-General. In his speech, he highlights how the efforts that the international community has taken up until now are completely inadequate.
The COP25 has started already uphill because of the last-minute change of the hosting country, from Chile, suffering a serious economic and social crisis, to Spain. This means that the European Union is entrusted with the de facto responsibility of guaranteeing a positive outcome which is essential to achieve the conditions necessary for the effective implementation of the Paris Agreement, which is expected by 2020.

The data provided by the recent reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) are unequivocal and increasingly worrying. The global temperature is now steadily 1.1°C higher than pre-industrial levels and the global warming process has accelerated with the last five years being the hottest ever recorded.

The sea level is rising rapidly, the oceans are warming up and acidifying at an accelerated rate. Things are not going well for the cryosphere as well: the ice of the Arctic Sea and the continental ice of Antarctica and Greenland continue to regress.Extreme weather events are intensifying. Over the past five years, heatwaves have been the biggest cause of death with record temperatures registered in many countries. Above all, this year is characterized by widespread fires in the Arctic area that have never been observed before.The impacts on terrestrial and marine ecosystems and on human life are becoming increasingly dramatic, putting at risk for a large part of the world’s population the access to health and essential goods such as food and water.

All this is happening while greenhouse gas emissions, the main cause of global warming, continue to grow alarmingly leaving without the hope of reaching a peak by next year and an unlikely possibility to do so by 2030, as pointed out by Hoesung Lee, president of the IPCC.The concentrations of the main greenhouse gases continue to grow, and CO2 reached a peak of 407.8 parts per million in 2018, concentrations that were only present in the Earth’s atmosphere between three and five million years ago.

This makes it increasingly difficult to meet the objectives of the Paris Agreement: to limit the increase in temperatures to 2°C at the end of the century compared to the pre-industrial era and, if possible, to 1.5°C to limit possible irreversible effects on the planet.The voluntary commitments made by the various countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (NDCs – Nationally Determined Contributions) seem totally inadequate. Even if they were actually undertaken, they would lead to an increase in the global average temperature estimated in the range of 2.9 to 3.4°C.

To reach the 2°C target, these voluntary commitments would have to triple their emission reduction targets by 2020, and to stay below 1.5°C they would even have to be five times higher. Technically, it is possible to close this gap, nevertheless, the issue is now a political one. The point is that an immense effort is needed to make the commitments of individual countries more ambitious. And this is the great challenge of this COP. We need to raise the bar to make a leap forward and not into the abyss.The outcome of the negotiations of the coming days will be in the hands of international leaders such as Trump for the United States, Bolsonaro for Brazil or Putin for Russia. There is not much room for optimism and for this reason the pressure of civil society from all over the world, which is partly represented here in Madrid, becomes fundamental and, perhaps today, it is the only source of hope.

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