UN summit 'parallel universe' to climate emergency: NGOs

Patrick GALEY
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The slogan of the 2019 installment of annual climate talks is 'Time for Action'

The slogan of the 2019 installment of annual climate talks is 'Time for Action' (AFP Photo/CRISTINA QUICLER)

Madrid (AFP) - Campaigners denounced the United Nations climate process as a "parallel universe" on Thursday, as vital talks make glacial progress despite the increasing global challenges of the climate emergency.

Nations are at the COP 25 summit in Madrid to finalise the rulebook for the landmark 2015 Paris accord, which aims to limit temperature rises to "well below" two degrees Celsius.

With just 1C of warming since pre-industrial averages, the world in 2019 battled a string of climate-related disasters, from raging wildfires to crop-crippling droughts.

The UN said this month that more than 20 million people are likely to be forced from their homes this year alone due to climate change.

Several countries this year declared a "climate emergency" and the slogan of the 2019 installment of annual climate talks is "Time for Action".

Yet as the two-week negotiations entered their final scheduled 24 hours, delegates and observers admitted there had been scarce progress over a number of contentious issues.

"We are in an unprecedented moment in our climate emergency," Jean Su, energy director for the Center for Biological Diversity, told AFP.

"This year alone we have seen millions of people march on the street to demand climate justice and defend the human and social rights that governments all across the world are violating.

"Action from these halls has been resoundingly absent when we are hitting the peak of our climate emergency," she said.

Activists have said the conference highlights a profound disconnect between global policymakers and communities already faced with the effects of climate change.

Rhoda Boateng of the International Trade Union Confederation said the talks were "like a parallel universe".

"This is a display of the powerful against the less powerful," she said.

-- 'Life and death' --

The UN's climate change expert panel, the IPCC, said last year that emissions from fossil fuels needed to be slashed within a decade if temperatures could safely be limited to 1.5C -- the more ambitious target in the Paris deal.

Yet emissions continue to rise year on year, and although a total of 80 countries have now pledged "high ambition" on reductions, they currently account for around 10 percent of global carbon pollution.

"They have to see that this is life and death," said Abishek Shrestha from the Asian People's Movement on Debt and Development.

"They have to step up, and pay up. Rich countries have been blocking discussion on climate finance and it's not acceptable," he told AFP.

- 'Violated' -

The contrast between plenary negotiations and climate activism in Madrid came to the fore Wednesday when more than 200 young activists and campaigners for women's and indigenous rights were expelled from the conference after a protest.

"Indigenous women calling for change and accountability were violated, pushed, kicked and handled by police, separated from their children," said Ta'kaiya Blaney, a 13-year-old indigenous campaigner from Canada.

"Security and police were protecting governments and polluters. In their eyes we are just something that needs to be removed so they can take more," she added.