A child cools off under water jets in a fountain during a heatwave in Montpellier, southern France. Image Credit: AFP

Abu Dhabi: Recent heatwaves in Europe and extreme weather changes in other parts of the world have everything to do with global warming, delegates told Gulf News on the sidelines of the Abu Dhabi Climate Meeting at Emirates Palace on Monday.

Their remarks came a day after United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned that “climate change is outpacing our efforts to address it”, adding that we only had “12 years to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees, beyond which we face irreversible climate disruption”.

His opening address also offered tangible solutions; “We are in the battle of our lives, but it is a battle we can win,” said Guterres, adding: “My message is clear. Solutions exist.”

“First let’s shift taxes from salaries to carbon. We should tax pollution, not people. Second stop subsidising fossil fuels. Taxpayers’ money should not be used to boost hurricanes, spread drought and heatwaves, and melt glaciers. Third stop building new coal plants by 2020. We need a green economy not a grey economy,” he said.

We are in the battle of our lives, but it is a battle we can win. My message is clear. Solutions exist. First let’s shift taxes from salaries to carbon. We should tax pollution, not people. Second stop subsidising fossil fuels.

- Antonio Guterres, United Nations Secretary General

Guterres congratulated the efforts of several countries including the UAE, that had “detailed and credible plans to achieve carbon neutrality by mid-century,” but bemoaned this progress not being made on a world level.

For this reason, the UN’s Climate Action Summit in New York this September has been called to get each country’s 2015 Paris Agreement promise — to limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees — back on track to avert a climate catastrophe.

The two-day Abu Dhabi Climate Meeting acted as an important precursor to New York as Guterres challenged each country to brain storm in the UAE capital and come back with ideas in New York on how to cut greenhouse emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 and get to carbon neutrality by 2050.

“We must leave Abu Dhabi with a set of winning outcomes that inspire people around the globe,” said UAE Minister of Climate Change and Environment Thani Ahmad Al Zeyoudi in his opening address.

UAE Minister of Climate Change and Environment Thani Ahmad Al Zeyoudi at the Abu Dhabi Climate Meeting. Image Credit: WAM

On Monday, the Minister of Environment for Peru, Lucia Delfina Ruiz Ostoic, agreed: “If we came here to try and do something and get to September still at the same point, we are not trying hard enough, we need to do more.

“This meeting has been important because we put everything on the table. Now we know the problem, we just need to enforce the solutions,” she told Gulf News.

“I’m positive, time is running out and we need to do something quick,” she added. “But we can see from this meeting in Abu Dhabi that most countries have a concrete action plan in place, we just need to go to New York in September to process our plans. Maybe we should choose only one or two measures to start with, but we need to do something.”

Egyptian Minister of Environment Yasmine Fouad, said: “It’s not a belief, there are scientific reports that state global warming is a fact. We can still avert crisis and make this work if we put action on the ground and are serious in our commitment, and developed countries fulfil their commitment to finance technological transfer and capacity building, that was an integral part of the Paris Agreement.

“Fortunately most countries are doing that but we still need to do more because human activity is accelerating nature’s anger.

“We need to collectively work on climate change, linking climate change to biodiversity and land degradation because the three are born together.

“These meetings are important because even if not everyone agrees, there is a discussion and from 10 suggestions two or three will be passed and that’s useful to prepare us for deliberation ahead of the summit in New York,” she added.

Heatwave in Europe

People swarm a public beach amid a heatwave in Valencia. Spain was hit by more wildfires as temperatures remained sky-high in the Europe-wide heatwave, authorities said, just as firefighters finally managed to contain another blaze they had been tackling for nearly 72 hours. Image Credit: AFP

When asked about heatwave in Europe, Valvanera Ulargui, director of Spain’s Office for Climate Change, said: “It’s clear we are suffering a climate change induced by human activities and we need to shift to another model, that’s not just me saying it, science is telling us. Science is key and we need to get our policies aligned with this evidence and get the science to the people. It’s very important that society understands and are part of the responsibility.

“We have already ratified the Paris Agreement into Spanish law and have policy measures and financial tools to plan a strategic framework. This gives a clear signal to all stakeholders, not only administratively, but also financial and private sector and civil society to be ambitious and go beyond our commitment [in Paris] in order to reap greater benefits.

“According to last scientific reports we are on track but our challenge now is we need all governments to really believe what science has said, and we need to be more ambitious, because we are very far from the commitment we signed in Paris.”

Climate Change meetings, a brief history

■ Since it was first drafted in December 2015, 195 countries have signed the Paris Agreement, which aims to keep the global increase in temperature to well below two degrees above pre-industry levels and to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees in order to reduce the risks and effects of climate change.

■ In August 2017 US President Donald Trump pulled out of the agreement because ‘it disadvantages American workers and taxpayers’. This dealt the process of averting climate change disaster a massive blow given that the US is the second largest carbon emissions offender behind China, contributing 14.58 per cent of the global total.

■ The Abu Dhabi Climate Meeting held at Emirates Palace on Sunday and Monday acted as a catch up on progress ahead of the UN Climate Action Summit in New York from September 21-23, which aims to get Paris Agreement commitments back on track.

■ “Even if the promises of Paris are fully met, we still face at least a three degree temperature rise by the end of the century,” said UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres in Abu Dhabi on Sunday. “Even more worrying is that many countries are not even keeping pace with their promises under the Paris Agreement. That is why I am convening a Climate Action Summit in September.”

■ Guterres added: “I am asking all leaders, from governments and private sector, to present plans — at the summit or at the latest by December 2020 — to cut greenhouse emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 and get to carbon neutrality by 2050.”

■ The Abu Dhabi Climate Meeting was therefore important, because it gave Guterres this opportunity to throw down the gauntlet to signatory nations to get their Paris Agreement promises back on track, warning them that they only had 12 years to limit a global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels, “beyond which we face irreversible climate disruption.”

■ It comes at an important time given heatwaves in Europe and a water crisis in India, but also because it follows closely on from the G20 Summit in Osaka last week, and continues to keep the pressure on the world’s top 20 countries who contribute 80 per cent of the world’s emissions.

Climate change to push up health bills

UAE Minister of Climate Change and Environment Thani Ahmad Al Zeyoudi said: “The medical bills from climate change are staggering, the humanitarian bills are staggering, and the number of deaths is unacceptable. But I want to take a more positive and balanced outlook here: Not just that climate change kills, but that climate action saves lives. Not just that health impacts are expensive, but that climate action is worth investing in.” He was speaking at a session with health ministers and World Health Organisation representatives on Monday that noted despite the link between climate change and health only 0.5 per cent of climate finance specifically targets health.