Photo credit: - Photo: 2019

We Have a Long Way to Go Battling Climate Change, Laments UN Chief

By Shanta Roy

NEW YORK (IDN) – The much-publicized Climate Action Summit, hosted by the United Nations on September 23, took off on a not-so-positive note even though it was billed as a high-level meeting of world political leaders.

Despite dire warnings from UN Secretary-General António Guterres of an impending “climate emergency” – with hurricanes, droughts, floods and heat waves in the far horizon – only 64 speakers, mostly heads of government and heads of state, turned up for the summit.

And 129 of the UN’s 193 member states were virtually missing in action (MIA) at a landmark event mandated to map out a strategy to fight global warming, and most importantly, to provide a platform for firm commitments to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and pledge increased funding for the ongoing battle against climate change.

The world’s five major emitters of carbon dioxide have been identified as China, the U.S., India, Russia and Japan. But both the U.S. and Japan skipped the meeting.

Summing up the outcome of the summit, Oxfam International Executive Director Winnie Byanyima warned: “This largely disappointing set of outcomes from the Climate Action Summit raises the stakes even higher for the upcoming COP25 (scheduled to take place in Chile, December 2-13, 2019) and COP26 in Glasgow, UK (at the end of 2020), when leaders have another chance to lead or let down, once again. We cannot keep pushing these decisions down the road – we are running out of time.”

Asked if there were any worthwhile commitments and concrete actions at the summit, Dr Richard J. Ponzio,  Director, Just Security 2020 and Senior Fellow at the Stimson Center, a nonpartisan policy research think tank based in Washington DC, told IDN that some countries (Germany, Qatar) made notable new financial commitments, but on the whole, the largest emitting countries failed to step up to the challenges of what is required to have a fighting chance up reaching the goals outlined in the Paris Climate Accord.

But despite a groundswell of global public concern for the climate crisis, led by students and youth activists, he said, few world leaders were willing to step-up to undertake the significant economic structural reforms – and to provide the private sector both the incentives and disincentives – required to reach net-zero carbon emissions by the 2050 target.

Asked about the future, Dr Ponzio said despite the best intentions of some world leaders, including UN Secretary-General Guterres, “our climate governance system doesn’t seem to be up-to-the-task of keeping global warming below 2 degrees centigrade – let alone 1.5 degrees centigrade target advocated by most scientists”.

Just as the United Nations was itself an innovation in global governance in 1945 over its failed predecessor the League of Nations, the world needs nothing short of a major overhaul of the UN and how global collective action works today to meet the challenge of runaway climate change, said Dr Ponzio.

Asked for a response, Andrew Norton, Director of the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) said: “The summit did not go far enough.”

He said the science is clear – “we cannot exceed a 1.5°C temperature rise. It is time to ditch the 2°C target.” 

Despite being a key opportunity for all leaders to show they had got the message and would take action that reflected the urgency the climate emergency demands, many rich and historically responsible governments fell short, he complained

Norton pointed out that the 47 Least Developed Countries (LDCs), described as the poorest of the world’s poor, showed true leadership by declaring determined commitments to get on to a climate resilient pathway by 2030 and achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

Despite hundreds of new initiatives announced with billions of dollars attached, most are not responding to what the people living in climate vulnerable areas say they need. Instead, they are being determined by international partners and donors, he noted.

“Although many rich countries pledged to double the finance for the Green Climate Fund, to be effective it must include fundamental reforms to make sure more money is directed to the local level and the poorest countries can directly access it.

“There is a lot to do between now and 2020. Leaders need to roll up their sleeves and update their plans in time for the UN climate summit in Glasgow in late 2020, at the latest.”

He said Governments must ensure that every policy they have ― including for aid, trade and agriculture ― is in line with tackling climate change. With national pledges as they stand, the world is heading for 3°C rise by the end of the century, with catastrophic implications.

“The voices of children have not yet been heard by the powerful, and the implications of the science have not been taken on board. Leaders need to go further and faster and the next year must not be wasted.”

Asked for a final rundown, Iain Keith, Campaign Director at Avaaz, a global movement empowering people to address crises worldwide, told IDN: “Climate courage is on the rise. Millions of kids bravely walking out of school, a UN that challenges its members, and indigenous people’s fighting fires in the Amazon.”

He said everyone in the world wants action on climate change NOW. But it takes courage to take the first step down a new path, and leaders of major polluters need to find it, or be pushed by 15 years olds.”

“We got a lot of new commitments, but we fell short of the clear plans needed to keep warming below even the higher Paris threshold of 2 degrees. But when you look at this compared to Paris, the progress below shows some big steps in the right direction, but when compared to the latest IPCC report on 1.5 degrees of warming, we still have a big ambition gap to close,” he added.

Credit; UN
UN Secretary-General António Guterres

According to Secretary-General Guterres, the summit did produce several positive initiatives.

“Let me be specific about just a few,” he told at the conclusion of the meeting.

He pointed out that 77 countries – many in the industrialized world – had committed to net zero carbon emissions by 2050. And they were joined by 10 regions and more than 100 cities – including several of the world’s largest.

Meanwhile, 70 countries announced they will boost their National Determined Contributions by 2020, while well over 100 leaders in the private sector committed to accelerating their move into the green economy. 

More than 2,000 cities committed to putting climate risk at the centre of decision-making, creating 1,000 bankable, climate-smart urban projects. 

Many countries around the world – from Pakistan to Guatemala, Colombia to Nigeria, New Zealand to Barbados – made major commitments today to plant more than 11 billion trees.

A group of the world’s largest asset-owners – responsible for directing more than $2 trillion – committed to move to carbon-neutral investment portfolios by 2050.

Multilateral and National Development Banks have increased their pledges, he said while the International Development Finance Club announced that it will mobilize $1 trillion in clean energy funding by 2025 in 20 least developed countries.

The Club will also promote carbon neutrality by reducing fossil fuels in portfolios and define exit strategies from coal financing.

130 banks – one-third of the global banking sector – signed up to align their businesses with the Paris agreement objectives and the Sustainable Development Goals.

All of this, in addition to the clear call by asset managers representing nearly half the world’s invested capital – some $34 trillion – who are demanding urgent climate action and calling on global leaders to put a meaningful price on carbon and phase out fossil fuel subsidies and thermal coal power worldwide.

“I want to once again salute those countries that have already increased their climate finance support, especially those that have doubled their contributions to the Green Climate Fund,” said Guterres, leaving open the perennial problem of how many of these commitments will be eventually realized?

And his parting words on stage said it all: “You have delivered a boost in momentum, cooperation and ambition. But we have a long way to go. We are not yet there.” [IDN-InDepthNews – 26 September 2019]

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IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.

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