From the tropics to the poles, from small islands to large continents, and from the poorest countries to the wealthiest, the ominous signs of climate change are profoundly visible, said United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today, calling for transformative collective action to tackle the phenomenon now – on all fronts– before it is too late.
“My objective has been to impress on Member States, the world of business and the public at large that climate change is an obstacle to the future security, prosperity and sustainable development of humankind,” Mr. Ban told the Friends of Europe Policy Spotlight, held at the Bibliothèque Solvay, in Brussels, where he has been much of this week holding talks with European Union (EU) officials on a host of pressing global issues.
While noting that it is vitally important for the international community to work together to tackle political and security challenges in Syria, the Central African Republic and other crisis hotspots, the UN chief stressed today: “we must look beyond the horizon and build the long-term foundations of peace…these too are life and death undertakings.”
Mr. Ban said that was why, after he wrapped up a recent visit to Moscow and Kyiv to press for a diplomatic solution over the Ukraine crisis, he made a trip to Greenland. Upon visiting the Ilulissat Icefjord, his greatest fears about climate change were confirmed: the impacts of the phenomenon were profoundly visible.
“Greenland is a canary in a coalmine. As our world warms, Greenland’s ice will slip faster into the sea, contributing to a rise in sea levels that already threatens hundreds of millions of people living in low-lying nations and coastal cities,” he said, noting similarly obvious impacts and consequences he witnessed on earlier visits to the Pacific island of Kiribati and to drought stricken countries in the Sahel.
Echoing the recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Mr. Ban said the phenomenon has already affected agriculture, human health and ecosystems, and could also threaten security, especially from of food and water shortages.
“All around the world, it is plain that climate change is happening. Human activities are the principal cause. We must act on what we know and take urgent steps before it is too late. The problem is global and everyone has a role to play,” he said, noting that the Policy Spotlight event is well placed to contribute, as Europe has both the power and a responsibility to lead in pioneering solutions at home; in propagating answers abroad; and in the climate negotiations.
With all this in mind, the UN chief laid out his prescription for action, which he said must begin with a meaningful, robust, universal and legal climate agreement by 2015.
Recalling that Member States have agreed to take action towards reducing emissions rapidly enough to limit global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius above, pre-industrial levels, he said that to add political momentum to that target, he will convene on 23 September a climate summit in New York.
“I am inviting leaders from Government, civil society and the business and finance communities to attend. I am urging all to raise the level of ambition. Governments have to lead. But civil society and the private sector have a significant role to play,” said Mr. Ban, adding that the business sector must also make sure that it is a part of the solution, not the problem.
He went on to urge action to boost climate finance as an essential investment in the future; to make progress towards a realistic price on carbon that reflects the real environmental costs of the fossil fuel economy; and to summon the political will to act on high-impact initiatives.
“Our motto should be adopt and adapt. Let us adopt the solutions that will work fastest and best. And let us adapt them and scale them up wherever and whenever we can,” said the Secretary-General, urging “climate smart” actions that can reduce black carbon emissions, curb deforestation, boost sustainable energy practices and enhance agriculture.
He also urged the EU to reach a decision as soon as possible on its pledge to adopt economy-wide emissions reduction targets as well as on renewable energy efficiency, preferably at the June 2014 meeting of the European Council.
Finally, Mr. Ban urged civil society step up advocacy for action because the world is at a critical juncture in efforts to address climate change, and grass roots voices would be vital to finding solutions.
The road ahead includes his climate summit in September, as well as meetings of the State parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Lima, Peru this year, and in Paris in 2015, he pointed out.
“Much heavy lifting is required. We need to apply political courage, technological knowhow, and sensitivity toward human need. Humankind has caused this problem. We can only look to ourselves for the solution,” the Secretary-General said.