Countries meet in Madrid over the next fortnight for UN climate talks, with the pressure on to up the levels of ambition for cutting emissions.
What are these talks?
This is the annual “conference of parties”, or “COP” under the UN’s climate convention. 196 countries, with the EU acting as a bloc, will attend to discuss action on climate catastrophe.
Don’t we already have an agreement on action?
Yes, we have the Paris Agreement, negotiated in the French capital in 2015, which commits countries to take action to keep temperature rises “well below” 2C (3.6F) above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to keep them to 1.5C (2.7F).
The gap between action and targets
There is a dramatic gap between the action and targets countries have set out to curb emissions and what is needed to avoid the worst impacts of global warming.
A recent report by the UN’s Environment Programme (UNEP) warned that even if countries deliver on their pledges so far, temperatures are expected to rise by 3.2C (5.76F) with wide-ranging and destructive impacts, and ambition has to be increased five-fold to meet the 1.5C target.
That means cutting global emissions by at least 7.6% a year over the next decade.
Why is limiting global warming to 1.5C important?
A report last year from the UN’s science body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), warned rises of beyond 1.5C would lead to more heatwaves and extreme rainstorms, more people facing water shortages, drought, lower yields of food crops, and the disappearance of coral reefs and other wildlife.
Limiting rises to 1.5C would avoid some of the worst impacts of climate change, it said.
What will we see at the talks?
Parts of Paris Agreement rulebook need finalising. This includes how carbon markets – in which polluters pay to offset their pollution through emissions-cutting activity elsewhere – will work.
There will also be pressure on wealthy countries to meet a previous pledge to ensure $100bn a year (£77bn) in finance goes to less wealthy countries to help them with climate impacts.
It’s not expected that there will be big announcements on ramping up ambition, but next year’s meeting – set to be in Glasgow in late 2020 – is a key moment. This is when the Paris Agreement comes into force and it is the date by which countries are expected to update their national plans for action.
So, the pressure is on countries to signal they are bringing forward more ambitious targets and plans.
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