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UN climate chief Patricia Espinosa: ‘Climate change impacts have never been worse’

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

The hype is strong with this climate conference.

With the direst environmental warnings yet still ringing in their ears, nations gathered in Poland for a UN summit aimed at heading off the “urgent threat” of runaway climate change.

“Climate change impacts have never been worse,” Patricia Espinosa (Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – UNFCCC) told journalists after Sunday’s first negotiating session.

“This reality is telling us that we need to do much more.”

In a rare intervention, presidents of previous UN climate summits issued a joint statement as the talks got underway, calling on states to take “decisive action… to tackle these urgent threats”.

“The impacts of climate change are increasingly hard to ignore,” said the statement, a copy of which was obtained by AFP. “We require deep transformations of our economies and societies.”

At the COP24 climate talks, nations must agree to a rulebook palatable to all 183 states who have ratified the Paris deal.

This is far from a given: the dust is still settling from US President Donald Trump’s decision to ditch the Paris accord.

G20 leaders on Saturday agreed a final communique after their summit in Buenos Aires, declaring that the Paris Agreement was “irreversible”.

But it said the US “reiterates its decision to withdraw” from the landmark accord.

While the data are clear, a global political consensus over how to tackle climate change remains elusive.

“Katowice may show us if there will be any domino effect” following the US withdrawal, said Laurence Tubiana, CEO of the European Climate Foundation and a main architect of the Paris deal.

Brazil’s strongman president-elect Jair Bolsonaro, for one, has promised to follow the American lead during his campaign.

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Note that Patricia Espinosa is Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

This is a different UN environment position to the position of Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, a position recently vacated by Erik Solheim after embarrassing revelations about Solheim’s extraordinary jetset travel expenses.

Greens are particularly upset that global CO2 emissions seem to be growing again, after a pause in emissions growth which led to claims CO2 had been decoupled from economic growth.

The reality in my opinion is a little less dramatic – it seems likely that China provided false growth metrics for a few years, to conceal an economic slump. Now the Chinese economy is genuinely growing, CO2 emissions are on the rise once again.