Science

UN climate chief Patricia Espinosa: We can still turn this around

It’s a critical time for action on climate change – but the rapid adaptations seen during the covid-19 pandemic offer hope that we can make a breakthrough, says the diplomat in charge of negotiations



Environment



21 April 2021

PROFILE: The Mexican diplomat and former foreign minister Patricia Espinosa is executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Adam Vaughan: The UN recently issued a report finding that global greenhouse gas emissions in 2030 will be only 0.5 per cent below 2010 levels, way off what is needed to hold global warming below 1.5°C. How did you feel reading that?

Patricia Espinosa: It was very bad news. It confirmed the bad scenario we had been talking about, that we really are in a climate emergency. I feared we would have bad news, so in that sense it was not really a surprise. But this report is very helpful because it illustrates how grave the situation is, how difficult it is and how much urgency we need to impress in decision-making and in actions.

You have said that some countries’ long-term net-zero emissions goals are reasons for optimism. But there is a big disconnect between those targets and short-term ones, isn’t there?

This is a big challenge now. This is precisely why we are stressing the need to review the NDCs [nationally determined contributions, or national climate plans] and see if we can increase ambition. I hope they can help us in giving this push to a higher level of ambition. For many businesses, and many different actors in society, it has become clear this is really about survival.

Have any governments heeded your call to submit new versions of existing national plans?

I’ve been talking with all of them without interruption. [The UN report] is not pointing fingers at anyone, but just reminding everyone there is a collective obligation. …

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