LONDON (Observer) -- The world will soon face “catastrophe” from climate breakdown if urgent action is not taken, the British president of vital UN climate talks has warned.
Alok Sharma, the UK minister in charge of the Cop26 talks to be held in Glasgow this November, told the Observer that the consequences of failure would be “catastrophic”: “I don’t think there’s any other word for it. You’re seeing on a daily basis what is happening across the world. Last year was the hottest on record, the last decade the hottest decade on record.”
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world’s leading authority on climate science, will publish a comprehensive report on Monday showing how close humanity is to the brink of potentially irreversible disaster caused by extreme weather.
“This is going to be the starkest warning yet that human behavior is alarmingly accelerating global warming and this is why Cop26 has to be the moment we get this right. We can’t afford to wait two years, five years, 10 years – this is the moment,” Sharma warned, in his first major interview since taking charge of the climate talks.
“I don’t think we’re out of time but I think we’re getting dangerously close to when we might be out of time. We will see [from the IPCC] a very, very clear warning that unless we act now, we will unfortunately be out of time.”
The consequences of global heating were already evident, he said. “We’re seeing the impacts across the world – in the UK or the terrible flooding we’ve seen across Europe and China, or forest fires, the record temperatures that we’ve seen in North America. Every day you will see a new high being recorded in one way or another across the world.”
This was not about abstract science but people’s lives, he added. “Ultimately this comes down to the very real human impact this is having across the world. I’ve visited communities that as a result of climate change have literally had to flee their homes and move because of a combination of drought and flooding.”
Sharma spoke exclusively to the Observer on the eve of the IPCC report to urge governments, businesses and individuals around the world to take heed, and press for stronger action on greenhouse gas emissions at the Cop26 conference, which he said would be almost the last chance.
“This [IPCC report] is going to be a wake-up call for anyone who hasn’t yet understood why this next decade has to be absolutely decisive in terms of climate action. We will also get a pretty clear understanding that human activity is
driving climate change at alarming rates,” he said.
Disaster was not yet inevitable, and actions now could save lives in the future, he added: “Every fraction of a degree rise [in temperature] makes a difference and that’s why countries have to act now.”
As president of Cop26, Sharma faces a formidable task: current national plans from many countries to cut emissions are inadequate, and would take the world far beyond the 1.5C of warming the IPCC will warn is the threshold of safety. He must persuade countries including China, India, Russia, Australia and Brazil to come up with credible commitments and policies to cut emissions, as well as extracting promises of cash from the U.S., the EU and other rich nations to meet a longstanding unmet pledge of £100bn a year in climate finance to the developing world.