Arriving in Copenhagen, Denmark, today to inject fresh energy into climate change talks, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon exhorted nations to ‘seal the deal’ on an ambitious new agreement, warning that the well-being of all of the world’s people is at stake.
The two-week summit under way in the Danish capital is “as momentous as the negotiations that created our great United Nations… from the ashes of war more than 60 years ago,” Mr. Ban said at the opening of the conference’s high-level segment.
“Once again, we are on the cusp of history.”
With the two-week summit set to wrap up on Friday, Mr. Ban underscored that nations cannot be allowed to fail in the home stretch, urging countries to put aside their “maximalist” negotiating positions and “unreasonable” demands.
“We do not have another year to negotiate,” he said. “Nature does not negotiate.”
Over 130 heads of State and government have confirmed their participation at conference, “clear proof that climate change has risen to the top of the global agenda,” the Secretary-General noted.
But he acknowledged that all leaders coming to Copenhagen face domestic pressures.
“No one will get everything they want in this negotiation. But if we work together and get a deal, everyone will get what they need.”
Talks were briefly suspended yesterday by African nations over the future of the Kyoto Protocol, currently the only legally binding pact on climate change.
Many industrialized countries are hoping to merge the Protocol and the outcome of the two-week Copenhagen meeting, in its second week, into a single agreement.
However, their developing counterparts, among the least responsible for greenhouse gas emissions, want to extend the Protocol past 2012, when its first commitment period ends, and hammer out a separate agreement this week in the Danish capital.
“I also know that the legitimate concerns of the most vulnerable remain,” Mr. Ban said today. “Ambition levels are not sufficient.”
An agreement that all nations can embrace must be forged in Copenhagen that brings all countries together with the common goal of reining global temperature rise to within two degrees centigrade and promotes ‘green’ growth, he said.
Any deal, the Secretary-General emphasized, must incorporate five key elements: more ambitious mid-term emissions reductions targets from industrialized countries; stepped-up efforts by developing nations to curb emissions growth; an adaptation framework; financing and technology support; and transparent and equitable governance.
He also underlined the need for countries to hammer out how to provide medium- and long-term financing to bolster climate resilience, limit deforestation and further low-emissions growth.
“We need to set a firm date for completing a new legally binding agreement as soon as possible in 2010,” Mr. Ban said to journalists after meeting with Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen of Denmark in the evening. “As soon as we agree on a politically binding agreement in Copenhagen, this agreement should be translated into legally binding treat as soon as possible. We need to set a date, a deadline. This deadline cannot be left hanging.”
Addressing reporters earlier today, Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), said that the process is “not about ramming the interests of a few down the throats of many. This process is about many trying to address all interests.”
Complicating the negotiations in Copenhagen are the various interests, he said, including small island nations’ fears that they will be inundated by sea level rise, oil producers fearing the future of the economy and major developing nations which are concerned about economic growth and poverty eradication.
Nobel Peace Prize laureate and green advocate Wangari Maathai was inducted as a UN Messenger of Peace with a special focus on the environment and climate change in Copenhagen today.
“Wangari Maathai is a living example of how much difference one person, with passion and dedication, can make in the world,” the Secretary-General said at the induction ceremony.
Professor Maathai, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004, founded the grassroots group known as the Green Belt Movement, which has planted more than 40 million trees on community lands across Africa and worked to improve environmental conservation and reduce poverty.
“She was also the first environmental activist to win [the Nobel Peace Prize] – sending an important message that environmental protection is every bit a matter of peace and security as the more traditional diplomatic efforts that usually claim the award,” Mr. Ban said.
UN agencies and their partner organizations also took part in raising awareness of the humanitarian toll of climate change, holding a ‘Humanitarian Day’ in Copenhagen.
The various events held to mark the Day sought to give a joint voice to humanitarian actors “to put across the message the climate change is not some abstract problem for the future,” John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, told reporters.
“It’s a problem which is happening right here and now and happening to ordinary people, particularly the poorest and most vulnerable populations around the world.”
Mr. Holmes, who also serves as UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, pointed to the humanitarian impacts of climate change, including the increasing number and intensity of disasters, as well as migration triggered by factors such as a rise in sea levels.
“We can do something about this. We are not helpless in the face of this,” he stressed, underscoring the importance of disaster risk reduction, early warning systems and others.