Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon voiced optimism today that negotiations for an ambitious new climate change agreement are on the “right track” after he wrapped up the largest-ever high-level gathering on the issue, but also warned that momentum must be maintained in the run-up to December’s conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, to ensure success.
Mr. Ban said he felt a “sense of optimism, urgency and hope” emerge from today’s summit at UN Headquarters in New York, which drew some 100 heads of State and government, that governments are determined to ‘seal a deal’ in Copenhagen.
“Many leaders spoke passionately and with grave concern of the devastating impacts of climate change their countries are already experiencing,” he said. “All of you support the urgent need to step up action and raise the financial resources needed to make this happen.”
Today’s event, he stressed at a press conference, has harnessed much-needed political will by focusing world leaders’ attention on the urgent need for action on global warming.
“Your words have been heard around the world. Let your actions now be seen. There is little time left. The opportunity and responsibility to avoid catastrophic climate change is in your hands.”
Mr. Ban, who saw first-hand the impact of global warming on glaciers in the Arctic earlier this month, said that he saw a thaw among countries today, with the gathering helping to breach differences and build trust by bringing leaders together in private, face-to-face talks.
But he cautioned that today’s summit alone cannot guarantee that a global agreement, to take effect once the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol ends in 2012, will be reached in the Danish capital.
Fewer than 80 days remain until the start of the Copenhagen conference, and the remaining weeks will be crucial as countries seek to reach agreement on details, he said.
In a summary of today’s talks among world leaders, Mr. Ban noted that there was convergence on five key issues, including enhanced measures to help the most vulnerable and poorest adapt to the impact of climate change as well as setting emission reduction targets for industrialized countries.
Heads of State and government also agreed on the importance of developing countries taking mitigation actions with necessary support; scaling up financial and technical resources; and setting up an equitable governance structure.
During the day-long event, leaders acknowledged the “scientific imperative” to curb emissions by at least 50 per cent below 1990 levels by 2050, with many referring to the importance of a 2-degree Celsius limit on global temperature rise.
The Secretary-General praised the Maldives for its announcement during today’s opening session that it intends to become climate-neutral by 2020.
In his remarks, Mohamed Nasheed, President of the Indian Ocean archipelago – which consists of some 1,200 tropical coral islets, none of which rises more than 1.8 metres above sea level, leaving the 400,000 inhabitants at great risk of rising sea levels and storm surges – issued an impassioned plea for urgent action today.
He expressed hope that this summit will not fall into the predictable pattern whereby nations pledge action at international gatherings, only to forget about their commitments.
“We at the Maldives desperately want to believe that one day our words will have an effect, and so we continue to shout them even though, deep down, we know that you are not really listening,” he said.
Mr. Ban also commended Japan’s “politically bold and crucially timed pledge” made today to slash their emissions by 25 per cent by 2020.
Six days into office, Prime Minister Yukio Hatayama vowed at the summit’s opening session to introduce a domestic emission trading system and a tariff for renewable energy, as well as considering a global warming tax.
“Your words have been heard around the world,” the Secretary-General told leaders at the summit’s conclusion. “Let your actions now be seen. There is little time left. The opportunity and responsibility to avoid catastrophic climate change is in your hands.”
Also addressing the wrap-up was Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen of Denmark, which will host December’s conference.
“Transforming our individual political commitments into a global agreement will take collective political determination at an unprecedented scale,” he said. “It is necessary, it is doable, and it is in our hands.”
Leaders, the Secretary-General said at a dinner following the event, have recognized that reaching a deal in Copenhagen will require their direct involvement. “As some said pointedly, ‘there is no Plan B.’”
The day-long summit opened with the recitation of a portion of late astronomer Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot by actor Djimon Hounsou, followed by a film both written and narrated by children from around the world.
Mr. Nasheed and Mr. Hatoyama, along with President Barack Obama of the United States, President Hu Jintao of China, Rwandan President Paul Kagame, Sweden’s Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, President Óscar Arias Sánchez of Costa Rica, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, spoke at the opening session of today’s gathering.
Also addressing that session was Rajendra Pachauri, who chairs the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), warning of the dangers of inaction on climate change.
“If we do not act on time, all of us will become the leaders and citizens of failed states,” he cautioned, with the potential of conflict rising due to lack of food and other resources.
Limiting temperature surges to 2 to 2.4 degrees Celsius will only slow economic growth targets by a few months, he emphasized, adding that mitigation brings a wealth of benefits, including lower air pollution and stable agricultural production.
Today’s summit featured a UN Leadership Forum Luncheon, addressed by former US Vice-President and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Al Gore, and marked the first time that global political leaders, as well as top business and civil society officials, met on such a large scale at the UN.
By purchasing carbon emissions credits from the Clean Development Mechanism, an innovative tool that directs investment in clean technologies to developing countries, the UN offset participants’ travel to the event.
Today’s emissions will also be offset by investments in a project in Kolar District in India to reduce deforestation and provide clean energy to be used for cooking.
Meanwhile, World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director Josette Sheeran echoed Mr. Ban’s call by challenging world leaders to focus on the human dimension of climate change.
“Every day we at WFP see the effects of the ravages of weather-related hunger on the people we assist,” she said in a statement issued today. “Every day we see people suffer from droughts and floods. Every year the situation gets worse.”
Ms. Sheeran underlined that climate change is a “crisis multiplier” – adding to the negative impact of the existing food and financial crises.