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Countries must cut emissions within decade to avoid climate disaster, says COP26 head

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Countries will have to deliver on emissions-reduction targets during the 2020s, rather than later, to avoid devastation from climate change, the British president of the upcoming COP26 climate summit has urged.

Under the 2015 Paris Agreement, nations committed to a long-term goal of limiting average temperature rise to below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit it even further to 1.5°C. This would require countries to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

So far, countries representing around 70 per cent of global emissions have announced their own national net-zero targets to be achieved by 2050 or 2060. But Alok Sharma – UK president for COP26, the next global climate change conference to be held in Scotland this November – said emissions will have to be “cut more drastically already in this decade” to avoid disaster further down the road.

“We are (now) heading for an over 3°C temperature rise (this century) which will cause devastation for every country, and will be the catalyst for an apocalyptic future,” he told a virtual conference hosted by energy policy advisory and watchdog group the International Energy Agency.

“We cannot afford another decade of deliberation. This needs to be the decade of delivery for major emissions cuts and financing to make this possible,” he added. “We need countries to set dates for zero-emissions vehicle sales (for example). And countries must honour their commitment for $100bn (£72.5bn) a year for climate finance. Without adequate finance (now) the task ahead is nigh-on impossible.”

Sharma said essential emissions reductions would entail rapid, structural change across the entire global economy, and collaboration on climate finance for impoverished developing countries, deforestation, and transport.

However, a joint report by the United Nations and research groups last year underlined major obstacles to such change. It said the world now plans to produce more than double the amount of coal, oil and gas in 2030 than would be consistent with curbing global warming under the Paris accord.

The US, the world’s second-biggest carbon emitter after China, re-joined the Paris Agreement after President Joe Biden took office this January, and his administration wants to lock-in drastic emissions cuts over the next three decades.

John Kerry, the US presidential special envoy for climate, said that even if the world did everything pledged under the Paris accord, the average global temperature would still rise to around 3.7°C this century.

“Everyone needs to be part of this as we don’t want the developing world making the same mistakes as we (developed countries) did from the 1800s,” he said. “We can’t willy nilly ignore the next 10 years. If we don’t do enough in the next 10 years, we cannot keep the Earth’s (average) temperature to 1.5°C.”

In related news, Yasuyuki Aono, a professor of environmental science at Osaka Prefectural University in Japan, said the early bloom of the world-renowned pink cherry blossoms in Kyoto shows indications of climate change.

The famous blossoms reached full bloom this year on 26 March (they often come out in full bloom in April), the earliest date in the 12 centuries since records began, according to the Japanese university.

Scientists have often pointed to the earlier flowering times of species such as cherry blossoms as indicators of global warming. And experts describe the Kyoto record in one study as “probably the longest annual record” of biological life cycles from anywhere in the world.

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