Spanish minister urges Sunak to engage in fight against climate crisis | Cop27

The Spanish government has urged Rishi Sunak to demonstrate a clear commitment to tackling the climate emergency, describing the The U.K. Government’s U-turn on the Prime Minister’s attendance at the upcoming COP27 summit as “sad” and “surprising”, given the UK’s global reputation and current chairmanship of the conference.

Spanish Environment Minister Teresa Ribera also said that “absurd” political debate, which drags on on climate change in the UK was “surprising and disappointing”.

Speaking to the Guardian ahead of this year’s summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, the minister said Europe needed to be strategic, transparent and resolute – particularly following a report which revealed temperatures on the continent have risen more than twice the global average over the past 30 years.

Ribera, who is one of Spain’s three deputy prime ministers, also insisted the UK had an important role to play in tackling the climate emergency. She pointed out that the country still retains the Cop presidency after last year’s summit, and said she was baffled by Sunak’s initial refusal to attend the conference and by the British government’s decision to demand that King Charles not come to the talks.

“I was extremely surprised by that,” she said. “I think there have been a lot of comments on social media, but you have to remember that the UK still holds the chair of one of the most important multilateral forums of the United Nations, a forum called upon to respond to World challenges.

“And it is surprising that they limit the presence of the Head of State and call into question the presence of the Prime Minister. Considering all that the UK has been for so long when it comes to analyzing global issues and coming up with global solutions, it is very sad to see this debate.

While Ribera hailed Sunak’s U-turn when she participated, she said she hoped it would be more than a “symbolic step” and that it would be accompanied by meaningful policies.

“What matters is national action, and I think that’s another of the lessons we’ve seen with Lula’s election [Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the new president] in Brazil now and with the elections in australia [won by Labor] and in so many other places,” she said. “The fight against climate change is not sorted at the cops – it is sorted at the polls of every country. And I think it’s important that the UK Prime Minister makes it clear that his commitment is what we expect from a country like the UK.

Whichever party is in power in the UK, she added, the government “cannot be allowed to fall on the same side as the [climate crisis] deniers or laggards”. Ribera acknowledged that Sunak was not elected by a general election, but noted that the downfall of his two predecessors had “a lot to do” with how they approached social issues.

The minister – an environment veteran who was Spain’s secretary of state for climate change from 2008 to 2011 – admitted it was difficult to explain the injustice, inequality and suffering caused by the failure to tackling the climate emergency, as well as breaking old habits.

“But if it’s one thing that these inertias and tensions are normal, I expect a lot more from those of us who are in a position to facilitate decisions,” she said.

“The important thing is how we react to this turmoil… That’s why it’s surprising and disappointing that you’re having this absurd debate in the UK. That’s why it’s surprising and disappointing that people are still talking about the things in such a belated and very selfish way. It shows that there are a lot of people who either didn’t get it or deliberately want to hide what [climate] change means.

Ribera said Spain’s recent summer record temperatures and devastating fires had come as “a very significant shock” to public opinion.

“I think people are realizing that climate change is not something distant in time or in space,” she said. “That it’s not just something for polar bears or their great-grandchildren. We live with it and it affects us in a much more cross-cutting way than the average citizen once imagined.

Ribera said she hoped Spain – the European country most at risk from desertification – could serve as a bridge to countries in the Sahel and Central America that are already experiencing water, food security and loss of soil quality. She also said the international community must stop ignoring “the big elephant in the room” and do more to anticipate the foreseeable disasters of the coming decades.

“Clearly, drought, desertification and poverty are synonymous with tension, conflict and migration or Boko Haram,” she says. “There are issues that we still have time to tackle – if we take adaptation policies and funding seriously. I say political because it’s not just about You have to have the ability to use those resources.

If world leaders were determined to mitigate the worst ravages of the climate emergency, Ribera said, they had to be clear, calm, resolute and persuasive.

“It is essential to be very transparent with explanations but also very determined on how we solve these problems,” she said. “We can’t just shock people because if you do that, the reaction is, ‘Carpe diem.’ And we cannot content ourselves with medium- and long-term ideas: we must also be very determined in the short term.

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