MUCH TALK, BIT OF WALK
World leaders at the UN Summit announced bold plans to cut carbon emissions and donate to the Green Climate Fund, while developing countries continue to suffer the harshest impacts climate change
World leaders spoke at the UN about their bold plans to combat climate change, which affects developing countries the most.
Speaking to more than 120 heads of state at the UN Climate Summit, actor and newly appointed UN Messenger of Peace Leonardo DiCaprio made clear the long-ranging impact of the attendees decisions.
You will make history, he said, or you will be vilified by it.
Tuesdays climate summit was not a part of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change ( UNFCCC) negotiation framework. Instead, it was a special event convened by SecretaryGeneral Ban Ki-moon to catalyse public opinion and increase political will for a binding climate agreement to be negotiated in Paris at the end of 2015.
This mixture of governmental, business, cities, states [and] civil society engagement is certainly unprecedented and it offers a chance to open the climate change discussion at a heads of state level as never before, said Jennifer Morgan, director of the climate and energy programme at the World Resources Institute (WRI), in a statement before the summit.
The secretary- general opened the summit by exhorting leaders to make substantial commitments to mitigate climate change.
Climate change is the defining issue of our age, he said. We must work together to mobilise markets and commit to a meaningful, universal climate agreement in Paris in 2015.
In three simultaneous ses- sions, world leaders announced national action and ambition plans to combat climate change. These announcements included pledges to cut emissions, donate money to the Green Climate Fund, halt deforestation and undertake efforts to put a price on carbon.
Representatives from small island states lamented that their countries would be underwater in only a few decades, while African leaders pointed out the growing number of climate refugees.
All eyes were on China and the United States, respectively the number one and number two carbon emitting countries in the world.
US President Barack Obama announced that all future US investments in international development would consider climate resiliency as an important factor. He also said that the US would meet its target of reducing carbon emissions in the range of 17 per cent below 2005 levels by the year 2020.
We recognise our role in creating this problem. We embrace our responsibility to combat it, Obama said. We will do our part and we will help developing nations to do theirs.
But we can only succeed in combating climate change if we are joined in this effort by every nation, developed and develop- ing alike. Nobody gets a pass.
Chinese President Xi Jinping did not attend the climate summit, but instead sent Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli.
While some were disappointed at Xis absence, the fact that such a high-ranking Chinese official would speak of the necessity of climate change mitigation was cause for optimism.
In a reaction statement, WRIs Jennifer Morgan said that Chinas remarks at the Climate Summit go further than ever before. Vice Premier Zhang Gaolis announcement to strive to peak emissions as early as possible is a welcome signal for the cooperative action we need for the Paris Agreement.
China alone accounts for one quarter of worldwide carbon emissions annually.
Narendra Modi, newly elected prime minister of India, also declined to attend the climate summit. India is the worlds third largest emitter of carbon.
Midway through the day, the secretary-general was insistent that real progress was being made.
This summit is not about talk, he said. The climate summit is producing actions that make a difference.
One of the most concrete things that nations can do to combat climate change is to make pledges to the Green Climate Fund.
The Green Climate Fund is a UNFCCC mechanism designed to transfer money from developed countries to developing countries, to build climate resilience.
During the summit French President François Hollande pledged US$1 billion to the Climate Fund over the next few years. Several other countries, including Norway and Switzerland, also promised to contribute smaller amounts. Germany pledged $ 1 billion to the fund several months ago.
Still, these efforts do not nearly close the climate resilience gap between rich and poor states.
Bolivian President Evo Morales voiced a common frustration in his statement on behalf of the G77 and China, a group of developing countries.
Developing countries continue to suffer the most from the adverse impacts of climate change... even though they are historically the least responsible for climate change, he said.
Morales criticised developed countries for failing to uphold their commitments, and said that developing countries would only be able to fulfil their commitments to reducing carbon without substantial financialassistancefromdevelopedcountries.
Its easy to get caught in the zero-sum game when talking about steps to mitigate climate change, DavidWaskow, headofWRIsInternational Climate Initiative, said. However, one of the things that was heard frequently today from the podium was the recognition that climate action and economic growth and development can go hand in hand.
Historical responsibility is a concern, he said, but it should not stop poor countries from recognising that there are paths forward on climate action that can in fact be beneficial for development.
Waskow pointed out that renewable energy will soon be just as cheap as fossil fuels in many countries, and could provide significant development benefits in rural areas far from the main electricity grid.
In addition to the climate summits main speeches, numerous side events took place, including thematic debates on the economic case for action and on climate science. A special session entitled Voices from the Climate Front Lines highlighted the experiences of children, youth, women and indigenous peoples in building resilience to climate change.
Meanwhile, popular support for action against climate change is gaining energy.
Around 100 climate-related events are taking place in New York between September 22 and 28 as part of the Climate Week NYC campaign.
Many climate supporters fear that the hype surrounding the summit and the 2015 Paris conference will amount to nothing more than it did in 2009, when hopes of a climate agreement in Copenhagen fizzled.
When asked whether enough had changed since 2009 to result in a successful climate treaty, Brandon Wu, senior policy analyst at ActionAid USA, said I think theres been enough [change] to get something through. I dont think theres been enough to get through something as ambitious as we need.
For the 2015 Paris agreement to succeed, negotiators will need a clear, focused and strong draft agreement by the end of the UNs climate change conference (COP20) in Lima this December, said COP20 president and Peruvian environmental minister Manuel PulgarVidal in a press call.
Major economies will need to come forward by March 2015 with their proposed contributions to the Parisframework.
Inhisremarksattheclimatesummit, Al Gore put forward his take on what was necessary for a successful climate treaty.
All we need is political will, but political will is a renewable resource.
A cyclist stops to look at a display, entitled "Cool Globes," an exhibition about combating global warming and climate change in the Kongens Nytorv area in the center of Copenhagen. AFP/VNA Photo