Extreme weather events such as superstorm Sandy and this summer’s drought in the US will become more frequent as the climate changes.
The warning comes as countries gather this week for the latest round of UN climate talks in Qatar.
European officials and campaigners want the talks to make progress towards a new global binding treaty by 2015, which the EU and a coalition of developing countries managed to get the world to agree to negotiate last year.
The talks have previously seen countries agree to take action to limit temperature rises to 2C and last year in Durban, nations signed up to negotiate a new legally binding global deal to cut emissions by 2015.
It is hoped this year’s talks will set out a pathway for negotiating the global deal, and ensure that all countries are on the same page as to what the new treaty will include.
This year also marks the end of the first phase of the Kyoto Protocol, the original climate deal to cut emissions which only covered the developed countries and which the US never ratified.
Part of the agreement to negotiate a new treaty is that Kyoto will continue into a second period, but only the EU, Australia and a handful of other countries have agreed to sign up to the second phase of the protocol.
The talks aim to secure a continuation of Kyoto and the rules on cutting emissions that it provides, and campaigners also hope negotiators will address loopholes which allow too much pollution.
Rich countries are also under pressure to provide finance to help poor nations develop cleanly and cope with the impacts of climate change as the first tranche of promised money comes to end this year.
Developed and developing nations have made a series of voluntary commitments to cut or curb emissions up to 2020.
But last week UNEP issued a warning that the gap between the commitments and what is needed to keep temperature rises below 2C is large, and growing.
The World Bank has warned the world is on track for temperatures rises of 4C by the end of the century, while the International Energy Agency has said only a third of proven fossil fuel reserves can be exploited if the 2C target is to be met.
The CIA has said climate change will cause geopolitical instability and insurers, investors and business leaders warn about the growing costs of climate change.
Conservation International’s climate policy director Becky Chacko said recent events in the US had brought the financial and human costs of failing to act on climate change into focus for the public there: “One of the big things was the impact of Hurricane Sandy. I think that really brings these issues to the forefront of the American public’s perspective.”
Ruth Davis from Greenpeace said there was now a “cacophony” of warnings, but governments were failing to heed them.
“One of the most important jobs of a government is to look after the long-term security of its country and people. Our governments are failing to look after the long-term security of their countries and people.
“The message is coming to them from institutions with the most clear and legitimate credentials, from insurers to science, but the message is not getting through.”
Q & A
Doha talks trajectory
Q. What do the talks involve?
A. 17,000 negotiators, environmental and social campaigners and journalists from 194 countries will gather in Doha, Qatar, for the 18th annual UN meeting to discuss action to tackle climate change.
Q. What are the talks about?
A. Countries have been meeting for nearly two decades to take international action on climate change. The negotiations created the original Kyoto Protocol treaty which saw developed countries commit to tackling their greenhouse gas emissions.
It is hoped a new international deal for all countries to curb the global greenhouse gas emissions can be negotiated by 2015, to come into force by 2020.
Q. What is likely to come out of the negotiations?
A. Negotiators will be under pressure to make progress towards the new agreement, setting out a “work plan” for how the deal is going to be secured by 2015.
Voluntary pledges made in 2009 to curb emissions up to 2020 are not sufficient to keep the world on track to limit temperature rises to 2C, as countries have agreed to do.
So it is also hoped that new initiatives or ideas will come forward to cut emissions in the next decade before the new deal comes in.
There is a need to assess the success of the finance which has been provided for developing countries to help them develop without polluting and cope with climate change, and to find new funding for the coming years.
A new phase of the Kyoto Protocol needs to be adopted by those countries, mainly the EU, which said they would agree to a second period of emissions reductions after the first phase finishes this year, as long as a new treaty was negotiated.
Q. Qatar is also holding the World Cup in 2022. How is it going to make that “green”?
A. If the competition goes ahead in the summer as planned, temperatures could rise to as much as 50C. Qatar’s World Cup bid includes plans for environmentally-friendly stadiums with solar powered air conditioning.
The country is also planning to make it possible to dismantle the stadiums after the World Cup so they can be donated to countries without the means to build their own.
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