COP24 set for tense finale: 'We are running out of time'

UN negotiations are set to wrap up in Poland after weeks of tense disputes between rich and poor nations.

    COP24 set for tense finale: 'We are running out of time'
    Demonstration to urge politicians to act against climate change in France, as the COP24 is held in Poland [File:Jean-Paul Pelissier/Reuters]

    United Nations negotiations aimed at preventing catastrophic climate change are set to wrap up in Poland on Friday after two weeks of heated disputes between rich and poor nations that saw countries most at risk plead for action.

    Sources close to the COP24 talks told AFP news agency that delegates from nearly 200 nations were still far apart on several issues - from adopting the latest environmental science to how future climate action is funded.

    Ministers must agree on a common rule-book to make good on promises made by countries in the landmark 2015 Paris accord, which vowed to limit global temperature rises to below two degrees Celsius.

    But with the starkest warnings yet from scientists highlighting the need to drastically slash fossil fuel emissions within the coming decades in order to meet the safer cap of 1.5 degrees Celsius warming, delegates were urged to act now or condemn at-risk nations to disaster.

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    "We are bearing the torch for those vulnerable to climate change," Hilda Heine, president of the Marshall Islands, told the conference.

    "We represent a number of nations, like my own, that face extinction. Species of all kinds also face existential risk."

    Dominating proceedings in the Silesian mining city of Katowice was a debate around a major report by a UN body showing the clearest sign yet of the disaster awaiting humanity if politicians fail to act.

    The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned there was no hope of meeting the Paris temperature goals unless greenhouse gas emissions were slashed to net zero by mid-century.

    Despite the UN climate change convention obliging nations to negotiate on the basis of the "best available science", four nations refused to "welcome" the IPCC findings at the talks.

    Most nations want the IPCC science to inform the rule book and form the foundation of countries' future ambitions on climate action.

    But the United States, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Kuwait were accused of playing for time to boost their fossil fuel-dependent economies.

    Host Poland has also come in for criticism from green campaigners for seeking permission to continue using coal for years in spite of overwhelming data that the opposite must happen.

    "After the last summer, the draughts, and the heavy rains, most of the citizens realise that climate change is hitting them, personally," Thomas Waitz, an Austrian politician, member of the European Parliament told Al Jazeera.

    "But it's the governments that are just protecting the business interest of their local companies, or multinationals, that's where the problem is," he added.

    Attack of sudden rain in the river Buriganga at Sadarghat, Dhaka, Bangladesh [File:Syed Mahamudur Rahman/NurPhoto via Getty Images] 

    The expectation is that talks will drag on until at least Saturday, with a number of key issues still unresolved.

    The head of the Maldives delegation to the UN climate conference questioned the point of the yearly summits.

    "What's the point" of having such negotiations if they don't lead to progress or solutions to problems that are related to the lives of people worldwide," Former President Mohamed Nasheed told AP news agency.

    Nasheed said there is an urgent need to implement the Paris agreement's call because without that, he said, the existence of the Maldives, an island nation in the Indian Ocean, will be threatened.

    "We don't think that this is asking for much," Nasheed said. "We are just only saying: Please do not kill us."

    'Rich countries to commit'

    Developing nations say richer countries should provide more money to help them adapt to the effects of climate change while still growing their economies.

    "We need rich countries to commit to provide predictable climate finance," Mohamed Adow, International Climate Lead at Christian Aid told Associated Press.

    "The IPCC is clear: real action is needed to halt climate chaos. Real action requires real money for real solutions."

    With politicians locked in debates over money, accountability and equity, it fell to 15-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg to deliver the most rousing call-to-arms.

    "We have not come here to beg world leaders to care. You have ignored us in the past, and you will ignore us again," said Thunberg, who called for a global student strike on Friday to raise awareness.

    "We have run out of excuses, and we are running out of time."

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    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies