Countries must not “shift the goalposts” at Cop26 to long-term targets and announcements on forests, finance and coal instead of urgent national action, Ed Miliband has warned.
The shadow business secretary, who is at the summit in Glasgow, said the central issue was closing the huge gap between the action countries were taking this decade and the emissions cuts needed to avoid dangerous warming.
Focusing on other things risked big emitters being “let off the hook”, the former Labour leader said.
Mr Miliband, who led the UK’s delegation at troubled UN climate talks in Copenhagen in 2009 as climate change secretary, said there had been definite progress on the issue in recent years – but it was still not enough.
“If you think about how the world is moving over the last five years, there’s been definite progress, significant progress, but it’s still significantly inadequate. It’s still a long way from where we need to be.”
The conference has seen a series of announcements with countries and organisations signing up to commitments on sectors such as protecting and restoring forests, delivering finance for the green transition and phasing out coal.
However, Mr Miliband warned: “In all of these announcements, you’re starting to see a pattern, particularly on forests and finance and coal, which is questions about either enforceability or how comprehensive they are or how much teeth they have.”
Countries have been setting out plans to cut emissions to zero overall in the long term, but often without the immediate or legal action needed to get them on track to deliver the goal.
He told the PA news agency: “We can’t have shifting of the goalposts.
“Neither the net zero targets for the middle of the century nor the sectoral announcements can be allowed to let the big emitters off the hook.
“There is a danger of countries being let off the hook and the world letting itself off the hook by imagining the progress we are making is sufficient.
“I always come back to this central situation, which is we need to halve global emissions this decade and the score that matters more than anything is what is the progress towards halving global emissions this decade.”
Scientists have warned that to curb global temperature rises to 1.5C – beyond which the worst extreme weather, rising seas and harm to crops, health and wildlife will be felt – carbon emissions must be cut by 45% by 2030.
But there is a 28 billion tonne emissions “gap” between the domestic action that countries were planning to take by 2030 under their pledges to the Paris climate accord and what is needed to limit warming to 1.5C.
“We need to know where we are on that gap and everything else is secondary to that question, because if we’re in the decisive decade and we have this urgency and it’s about keeping 1.5C alive, that’s the score-card, that’s the judgement,” Mr Miliband said.
“I do worry about the moving of the goalposts onto other things.”
The national action plans set out by countries for 2030 were “a declaration in the court of world opinion that you are going to do this thing and you’re going to do it over a certain timescale, and you can be held to account for it.”
He warned that shifting the goalposts away from the plans, known as nationally determined contributions, reduced the pressure on countries to act.
He added: “It’s important to say to the public that there is hope, this four days shows that countries feel the pressure to at least say they’re doing their bit. Climate denial is not a thing here and that is significant and important.”
“We should be hopeful but we need to keep people honest, and we need to be careful about the hype.
“Winning slowly is not the same as winning. The cost of delay, the danger of delay is real and quite catastrophic, so that’s why urgency and speed matters, it’s not just a question of let’s get there eventually.”