After European Parliament declared climate emergency last week and pledged to curb carbon emissions, global talks tasked with neutralising the threat of global warming got underway in Madrid on Monday at COP25, but their narrow focus on rules and procedures remains out of sync with the world’s climate-addled future. Mindful of this gap, UN chief Antonio Guterres warned on Sunday that a “point-of-no-return” in the climate crisis is “insight and hurtling towards us.”

Indeed, three decades after NASA scientist James Hansen made headlines by telling the US Congress global warming had begun, evidence of its dire impacts is so overwhelming that “climate denier” is synonymous with insisting the Earth is flat.

Guterres lambasted the world’s major economies, describing their efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions overheating the planet as “utterly inadequate.”

“Some countries like China and Japan are signalling their unwillingness to increase ambition,” said Laurence Tubiana, CEO of the European Climate Foundation and, as a former negotiator for France, a main architect of the Paris Agreement.

Nor have countries with a huge population and land like India, Russia or Brazil expressed any enthusiasm for ratcheting up carbon-cutting pledges submitted under the 2015 treaty. Donald Trump has taken things a step further by yanking the US out of the Paris deal entirely.

But even if all the world’s nations honoured their pledges, the planet would still heat up at least three degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, a sure-fire recipe for calamity, scientists say.

Nations have agreed to cap warming, already up by one degree Celsius, at “well below” 2C. Beyond the 2C threshold, “we are at risk of unleashing self-reinforced warming,” Johan Rockstrom, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, told AFP.

“This is what Earth system scientists fear most.” The talks in Madrid, the 25th COP, or conference of the parties, in as many years, will focus on finalising rules for global carbon markets, and setting up a fund to help countries already reeling from climate-enhanced heatwaves, droughts, floods and storms made worse by rising seas.

Spain’s Socialist government offered to host this year’s UN climate conference, known as COP25, from December 2 to December 13, 2019, after the event’s original host Chile withdrew last month due to deadly riots over economic inequality. Spanish authorities expect some 25,000 participants and 1,500 journalists from around the world to attend the two-week gathering in Madrid.

Despite growing public pressure, the 12-day negotiating session is likely to remain technical in nature, focused on finalising the “rulebook” for the Paris Agreement, which becomes operation at the end of next year. Climate change is no longer a long-term problem, Guterres said. “We are confronted now with a global climate crisis and the point of no return is no longer over the horizon, it is in sight and hurtling towards us.”

(With inputs from AFP)