World leaders have been issued a stark climate warning following a year of record heat, fire, flooding and storms.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has told leaders the climate crisis had “opened the gates to hell” during the 78th General Assembly where leading polluters China and the United States were conspicuously absent.
Talks were partly overshadowed by an announcement from Britain that it was rolling back policies that would help it achieve its net-zero goal. Britain was also absent at the summit.
Despite increasing extreme weather events and record-shattering global temperatures, greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, while fossil fuels remain subsidised to the tune of $10.8 trillion annually.
Mr Guterres had billed the “Climate Ambition Summit” as a “no-nonsense” forum, ensuring that only leaders who had made concrete plans to achieve net-zero greenhouse emissions would be invited.
In his opening address, he cited 2023’s “horrendous heat” and “historic fires”.
However, he stressed: “We can still limit the rise in global temperature to 1.5 degrees,” referring to the target seen as needed to avoid long-term climate catastrophe.
“Humanity has opened the gates to hell,” Guterres warned.
After more than 100 applications, the UN released a list of 41 speakers, which did not include China, the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan or India.
Several major leaders didn’t bother making the trip to New York for this year’s UN General Assembly, including President Xi Jinping of China and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak from the United Kingdom.
On Wednesday, Mr Sunak announced that he was adopting a “pragmatic” approach to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. As part of this approach, he is delaying the ban on the sale of cars that run solely on fossil fuels and easing energy efficiency requirements for rental properties.
The moves come as Mr Sunak’s Conservative Party trails in the polls behind the Labour opposition amid a cost-of-living crisis.
US President Joe Biden addressed the General Assembly on Tuesday. His climate envoy John Kerry attended, but wasn’t allowed to speak in the high-level segment.
According to Catherine Abreu, who is the executive director of non-profit organisation Destination Zero, it may be considered a positive development that Mr Biden was not given a speaking slot at the summit.
She said this was because the United States was aggressively pursuing fossil fuel projects despite significant investments in renewable energy sources.
Anger is building among climate activists, particularly younger people, who turned out in tens of thousands last weekend for the “March to End Fossil Fuels” in New York.
The Chancellor of Germany, Olaf Scholz, highlighted his country’s pledge of 2 billion euros (A$3.3 billion) to support climate initiatives in developing nations.
Meanwhile, Brazil announced its goal to achieve zero deforestation in the Amazon by 2030, which marks a significant departure from the policies of former President Jair Bolsonaro.
“The small steps countries offered are welcome, but they’re like trying to put out an inferno with a leaking hose,” said David Waskow of the World Resources Institute.
“Far too many key players didn’t touch the accelerator.”
The issue of money has long plagued climate action.
Advanced economies pledged in 2009 to give $155 billion yearly to developing nations by 2020 for their historic emissions but have yet to fulfil the promise.
Meanwhile, a “loss and damage” fund to assist nations most impacted by the effects of climate change has still not been operationalised.
Kenyan President William Ruto called for a universal tax on the fossil fuel trade to plug the fiscal gap.
“Neither Africa nor the developing world stands in need for charity or handout … What we need is fairness,” he said.
Prime Minister Mia Mottley of Barbados urged the world to take the climate crisis and the financing required to solve it as seriously as the Ukraine conflict.
Nearly 200 nations will participate at the two-week COP28 talks in Dubai starting in late November, where the speed of eliminating oil, gas, and coal from the global economy will be a contentious issue.
Australia’s upcoming summer
Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology has declared an El Nino climate pattern, sparking worries about heatwaves and catastrophic weather events as summer approaches.
It comes as an unusual spring heat causes sizzling high temperatures and extreme fire danger across Australia’s southeast, with a severe heatwave warning issued from Monday to Wednesday in NSW.
Temperatures have soared 14 degrees higher than usual in large parts of the country, reaching the mid-30s for the first half of the week.
While the bureau predicts this year’s bushfire season will not be as catastrophic as Black Summer in 2019-20, significant concerns remain.
“We’re already seeing extreme conditions in some parts of the continent, particularly in the duration of heat, so we’ve had an extended period of warm and dry weather to start spring,” Bureau climate services manager Karl Braganza said.
“It is drying out more rapidly than has occurred in recent years, and we are seeing that elevated risk now occurring in eastern NSW in particular and Sydney equalling its record so far today for temperatures for September.”
According to Climate Science Senior Lecturer at Melbourne University Dr Andrew King, Australians are at an increased risk of more heat events like the once currently facing NSW and Victorian locals.
“The unusually hot weather we’re seeing across southeast Australia at the moment is a warning of the kind of extremes we’re likely to see more of over the next few months,” he said.
“Coming on the back of consecutive La Niña events, this spring will likely be very different, and we need to be prepared for more heat, drought and fire weather conditions.”
Australia has been on an El Nino alert since June, with the conditions experienced on the East Coast finally ticking every box for the bureau to declare it official.
Residents are already bracing for shocking heat and fires, with total fire bans declared for Greater Sydney and the NSW south coast amid extreme fire danger ratings.
“I think El Nino means we’ve elevated the risk of fire danger and extreme heat in particular in terms of the hazards we face … we aren’t leading into this summer on the back of extended drought, which somewhat reduces the risk, but we have seen eastern NSW dry out quite particularly,” Dr Braganza said.
“I think there’s 61 fires burning in the landscape in NSW at the moment, and I think that just underscores if we continue to dry out the landscape over the next three months, then we’ll be adjusting our message accordingly in terms of the risk.”
– With AFP and NCA NewsWire