The chairwoman of a two-week climate summit attended by nearly 200 countries has warned that those refusing to adjust to the planet’s rising temperatures “will be on the wrong side of history”.
Chile’s environment minister, Carolina Schmidt, opened the summit in Madrid by saying the meeting needs to lay the groundwork for moving towards carbon neutral economies while being sensitive to the poorest and those most vulnerable to rising temperatures – something that policymakers have termed “just transition”.
“Those who don’t want to see it will be on the wrong side of history,” said Ms Schmidt as she called on governments to make more ambitious pledges to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases ahead of a deadline to do so next year.
The summit, which moved to the Spanish capital after Chile had to pull out amid anti-government protests, aims to put the finishing touches to the rules governing the 2015 Paris accord.
That involves creating a functioning international emissions-trading system and compensating poor countries for losses they suffer from rising sea levels and other consequences of climate change.
“We have a common challenge but with differentiated needs and urgencies, which we can only overcome if we work together,” said Ms Schmidt as her country took over the chairing of the meeting from Poland.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has warned that pledges to reduce emissions of gases responsible for rising temperatures so far are insufficient to overcome the “point of no return” in climate change.
“What is lacking is political will,” Mr Guterres told reporters on the eve of the meeting.
Organisers expect around 29,000 visitors to attend, including around 50 heads of state and government.
Except for the European Union’s newly sworn-in leadership, which was due to begin a five-year term by paying a visit to the summit, the rest of the world’s largest carbon emitters — the United States, China and India — are sending ministerial or lower-level officials to the meeting.
Mr Guterres noted some 70 countries — many of them among the most vulnerable to climate change — have pledged to stop emitting more greenhouse gases by 2050.
“But we also see clearly that the world’s largest emitters are not pulling their weight. And without them, our goal is unreachable,” he said.
He also said creating a worldwide market for emissions, which is a key element of the sixth article of the Paris accord, remained one of the most contentious issues for negotiators.
“We are here to find answers for article six, not to find excuses,” Mr Guterres said.
Mr Guterres also announced outgoing Bank of England governor Mark Carney would become his new special envoy on “climate action and climate finance” from next year.