Mr Attenborough is correct: We can no longer prevaricate on climate change

Editorial

Mr Attenborough is correct: We can no longer prevaricate on climate change

Wednesday, February 05, 2020

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The United Nations (UN) climate summits have been hobbled by talk and little action, a common view recently articulated by Ms Claire O'Neill — who was removed as COP 26 president last week — and renowned British naturalist and broadcaster Mr David Attenborough.

In a leaked letter published by the Financial Times yesterday, Ms O'Neill said the current format of UN climate summits “needed to be re-energised and focused if we are to reach any form of meaningful global action plan for climate recovery”.

The annual talks are dogged by endless rows over agendas, ongoing unresolved splits over who should pay, and insufficient attention and funding for adaptation and resilience, Ms O'Neill suggested.

Mr Attenborough, in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), said: “We have been putting things off year after year. We have been raising targets and saying, 'Oh well, if we do it within the next 20 years.' ”

Mr Attenborough cannot be described as a neophyte in matters of nature and the broader issue of climate change. He is, after all, renowned for his ground-breaking wildlife programmes for the BBC, as well as his TV series Blue Planet II, which was credited with raising global awareness about the damage to the world's oceans and marine life caused by discarded plastics.

The comments by Mr Attenborough and Ms O'Neill come as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson — at a launch event for the COP 26 summit scheduled for November in Glasgow — announced plans by his Government to bring forward a ban on the sale of new petrol vehicles by five years.

Mr Johnson also called on other countries to match Britain's pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050.

On both those counts, he and his Government should be commended. Firm action is what is needed if the international community is to deliver on climate plans already agreed for this year.

We share Mr Attenborough's view that a game-changer in tackling global warming would be for China to take major steps to curb its carbon output. World Population Review data show that China has the highest level of CO2 emissions, producing 904.07 million tons of carbon dioxide in 2015.

The United States has the second-highest of 499.75 million tons, and the second-highest CO2 emissions per capita of 15.53, while Saudi Arabia has the highest CO2 emissions per capita of 16.85.

Between 2010 and 2017 total global CO2 emissions have increased from 33.1 gigatons to 36.2 gigatons and are projected to increase in the coming years. The nations that are emitting the highest amounts are not doing enough to reduce emissions.

It is not surprising, therefore, that the UN's World Meteorological Organisation reported last week that the past decade has been the hottest on record. It also warned that higher temperatures had already had dire consequences, from record sea levels to increasing ocean heat and extreme weather, and these are set to continue.

Failure to reverse these practices, particularly by the world's major emitters of greenhouse gasses, will have dire consequences for our planet. As Mr Attenborough correctly states, “We can no longer prevaricate. We can't go on saying there's hope and leave it to next year. We have to change.”


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