Story at a glance

  • The world could descend into a catastrophic situation should global leaders fail to adequately address greenhouse gas emissions at the upcoming U.N. climate summit.
  • World leaders at the COP26 summit in Glasgow beginning in November are expected to pursue avenues toward the goals set in the 2015 Paris climate agreement
  • “What we need to get at Glasgow are messages from leaders that they are determined to drive this transformation, to make these changes, to look at ways of increasing their ambition,” Espinosa said.

The world could descend into a catastrophic situation should global leaders fail to adequately address greenhouse gas emissions at the upcoming United Nations climate summit, a top global health official said. 

“We’re really talking about preserving the stability of countries, preserving the institutions that we have built over so many years, preserving the best goals that our countries have put together. The catastrophic scenario would indicate that we would have massive flows of displaced people,” Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, said in an interview with the Observer.

Espinosa, who assumed the climate role in 2016, added that the impacts would be even more far reaching, saying “it would mean less food, so probably a crisis in food security. It would leave a lot more people vulnerable to terrible situations, terrorist groups and violent groups.”

“It doesn’t only speak to the environmental side. It is also about the whole system we have built. We know what migration crises have provoked in the past,” Espinosa continued. “If we were to see that in even higher numbers – not only international migration, but also internal migration – [it would] provoke very serious problems.”


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World leaders at the COP26 summit in Glasgow beginning in November are expected to pursue avenues toward the goals set in the 2015 Paris climate agreement, which aims to reduce global warming by 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to preindustrial levels. 

The U.S. rejoined the Paris agreement after President Biden assumed office, and the president convened a virtual climate summit in April where he announced the U.S. would aim to reduce emissions by 50 percent by 2030 compared to 2005 levels. 

“What we need to get at Glasgow are messages from leaders that they are determined to drive this transformation, to make these changes, to look at ways of increasing their ambition,” Espinosa said. 

The 2015 agreement asks signatories to develop increasingly aggressive plans to combat the climate crisis and to submit goals once every five years on the global stage — a process Espinosa says some countries might find difficult.  

“It is probably not the most attractive idea to government representatives – when you have finished the plan, come back and tell all those involved, ‘OK, now you have to continue revising your plan,” she said. 

“But this is the biggest challenge humanity is facing, so we really don’t have an option. And we know that situations change, technologies change, processes change, so there’s always room for improvement.”


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Published on Oct 25, 2021