Despite the coronavirus crisis and the temporary withdrawal of the U.S. under Trump, the 2015 Paris Agreement is still driving action to limit global warming, says Achim Steiner
* Efforts to tackle global warming have advanced despite COVID-19
* Paris Agreement survived Trump withdrawal and is still 'kicking'
* More finance needed for poor nations to deal with costly impacts
By Megan Rowling
GLASGOW, Nov 11 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The world is far off the emissions cuts needed to keep global warming to a crucial limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius, but projected temperature rise is creeping down toward the goal, thanks to the 2015 Paris Agreement, the U.N. development chief argues.
Achim Steiner told the Thomson Reuters Foundation at the COP26 climate talks in Glasgow that people should be impressed the summit was happening amid a global pandemic.
That is a testament to the "resilience" of the Paris pact and the U.N. climate process as "a vital platform", he added in an interview.
"The world has a lot to be concerned about, because where we will be at the end of Glasgow is still far, far away from a 1.5-degree world," he said.
"But to those who thought that the Paris Agreement may mean little or nothing - that with the exit of the United States it would be dead - Paris is alive and kicking," he added, referring to the decision by former U.S. President Donald Trump to yank his country out of the climate pact.
Democratic President Joe Biden rejoined the Paris deal at the start of this year.
Steiner, head of the United Nations Development Programme, noted that 154 out of 193 countries had submitted new or updated national climate action plans by COP26, during testing times when economies have been battered by the coronavirus crisis.
That the Paris deal is still alive is "a very significant signal", he said, which is "driving action at both at global and national level."
Nonetheless, only about 90 updated national climate plans are judged by the Washington-based World Resources Institute to contain stronger emissions reductions than the first versions submitted in 2015.
The United Nations estimates the pledges still add up to a near 14% increase in planet-heating emissions by 2030 compared to 2010 levels.
To stick to the 1.5C threshold, global CO2 emissions need to drop 45% by 2030, the U.N. climate science panel says.
Researchers with the Climate Action Tracker group projected this week that all national pledges submitted so far to cut greenhouse gases by 2030 would, if delivered, still raise the Earth's temperature by 2.4C above preindustrial times.
That is down from a 2014 estimate of 3.1C, before pledges were made for the Paris Agreement.
"We have actually seen countries taking action well beyond what people would have thought likely just before the pandemic hit us," Steiner said.
FINANCE ‘LITMUS TEST'
That about 120 world leaders turned up at the start of the COP26 summit last week was "affirmation" of the centrality of the annual U.N. talks in driving action on climate change, even as such action spreads more widely across economies, he added.
But, as always, the negotiations in Glasgow - which this year aim to set key rules on governing carbon accounting and boost finance for climate action, among other issues - are going down to the wire, with talks due to end Friday.
Rows persist over how to share the burden of reducing emissions between bigger and smaller polluting countries, as well as how to make up a shortfall in funding to help developing nations adapt to more extreme weather and rising seas.
The talks have made slow progress on the issue of finance, with vulnerable countries pushing hard for more concrete commitments by wealthy governments to make good an unmet promise to deliver $100 billion a year from 2020.
Poorer countries also want the meagre 25% share of money that goes to adapting to climate impacts raised to 50%.
Steiner said finance was "going to be a critical litmus test" in the final stretch of the summit.
The failure to meet the $100-billion goal has become "a real risk to the overall progress of the Paris Agreement", he warned.
"Developing countries feel like they're being asked to raise their levels of ambition to deliver ever more into a global climate partnership and yet the wealthier part of the world is not honouring its side of the deal," he added.
Steiner, who previously headed up the U.N. Environment Programme, said the rising need for countries on the frontline of climate change - many in Africa, Asia and Latin America - to adapt to climate change was "a tax on development budgets".
For example, instead of spending money on healthcare, education, transport and ending energy poverty, governments are having to build higher sea walls to protect against storm surges or put in place technology to reduce saltwater intrusion and tackle drought in key food-producing areas.
"Adaptation has now become a real preoccupation, particularly for those countries who simply do not have the resources," said Steiner, noting the huge costs incurred by nations from flood-hit Germany to hurricane-battered Antigua and Barbuda.
"We are living in an era where having to deal with climate change has now become not only a reality, it's an extremely costly reality," he said, noting insurance and other social protection could help lower the financial impacts on people.
(Reporting by Megan Rowling @meganrowling; editing by Laurie Goering. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org/climate)
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