Durban - New research and findings are “sounding alarm bells” for urgent action to halt global warming, the United Nation’s top official on climate change, Christiana Figueres, told journalists on Sunday.
Speaking at a curtain-raiser media briefing in Durban, a day ahead of the official opening of the COP 17 conference, she said there were two very important backdrops to the next fortnight’s negotiations.
“The first has to do with a growing momentum for action… and the other is the new research and the findings that are sounding alarm bells for urgent action.”
Figueres, the executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), said recent findings all warned of rising danger levels.
These included reports by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
“The World Meteorological Organisation has put out a report that the atmosphere has reached record levels of greenhouse gasses.
“The IPCC just adopted… its report on extreme weather events, and it has concluded that hot days are becoming hotter and will occur more often,” she said.
On the Kyoto Protocol, Figueres - responding to a question - said governments had come to COP 17 “fully aware” of the importance of this treaty and the expiry of its current commitment period at the end of next year.
“I believe that there will be very serious effort here in Durban to move into a second commitment period,” she said.
It was a “tall order” for governments to face this issue, carried over from last year’s Cancun negotiations (COP 16) and from Copenhagen the year before.
Finding a solution to climate change required “nothing short of the most compelling energy, industrial and behavioural revolution that humanity has ever seen”.
Asked whether she thought the Durban conference could defer a decision on a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol, Figueres replied: “In principle they could do that, but I don’t see any interest in doing that.”
Many observers believe COP 17 is unlikely to agree on a second commitment period, and say that in this regard laying a foundation for it to happen is the likely outcome. Some say this could take up to 2020.
Scientists warn that any delay would make restricting warming to an average global increase of 2°C, or less, extremely difficult if not impossible. Anything higher than two degrees is likely to cause extreme changes to the world's weather patterns.
A recent assessment by Unep, titled “Bridging the Emissions Gap”, warns that pledges by countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions fall way short of what was required.
South Africa’s environment minister, Edna Molewa, warned last week that a “low level” of ambition among countries to reduce their emissions could see world temperatures soaring.
“Where we are now, we’ll be between three to four degrees,” she said.