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Climate action can deliver a sustainable future for all: UN deputy chief

Fisherwomen like Falmata Mboh Ali (right) hard at work on Lake Chad, which has shrunk to a tenth of its original size over the past decades leaving dwindling stocks of fish (file photo).
UN News/Dan Dickinson
Fisherwomen like Falmata Mboh Ali (right) hard at work on Lake Chad, which has shrunk to a tenth of its original size over the past decades leaving dwindling stocks of fish (file photo).

Climate action can deliver a sustainable future for all: UN deputy chief

Climate and Environment

Climate action can be the driver for a green and equitable future for all, UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed has said at the TED Countdown Summit, urging people everywhere to demand that leaders deliver on their promise to limit global warming. 

Speaking ahead of the COP26 UN climate conference, which wraps up this weekend in Glasgow, Scotland, Ms. Mohammed underlined the need for greater funding and commitment, as well as solidarity.  

“Climate change doesn’t pause, and neither must we,” she said in her address to the TED Countdown Summitin her recently livestreamed TED Talk held recently in nearby Edinburgh and livestreamed globally.   

Another climate change ‘victim’ 

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Ms. Mohammed, who is from Nigeria, recalled her childhood walks along the shores of Lake Chad, one of the largest lakes in Africa, with some 30 million people in four countries relying on its bounty. 

Back then, the lake was more like an ocean to her as it seemed to go on forever.  Today, it is a mere fraction of its size. 

“Ninety per cent of this fresh-water basin has dried up – and with it – millions and millions of livelihoods: farmers, fisherfolk and our market-women”, she said.  “Climate change takes yet another victim”. 

This loss is further compounded by the damage caused by the Harmattan, she added, which in the past was just a short three-month season of dust and wind.  

‘Tipping towards catastrophe’ 

The dust storms are now coming earlier and bigger each year.  The human and ecological fallout has been devastating, with job loss, hunger and displacement. 

Ms. Mohammed described this as a “perfect storm” for crushing poverty and violence, which has provided fertile ground for extremism to take root, wreaking havoc on peace. 

 “Sadly, touch down anywhere in the world and you’ll hear more tragic stories of climate devastation.  Drought, floods, wildfires – lives and livelihoods in jeopardy – tipping towards catastrophe”. 

Even in the face of the mounting climate crisis, the UN deputy chief still has hope in the “human family”, and its unwavering drive to survive against all odds. 

It is this spirit which that led countries to adopt the Paris Agreement on climate change, which aims to keep global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. 

A critical decade 

Ms. Mohammed said the 2015 accord has the power to drive the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the blueprint for a more fair, just and equitable future for all people and the planet. 

Achieving the Paris goal will require decarbonizing the global economy by 2050 through by halving greenhouse gas emissions during this decade. 

“We must make coal history, with coal phased out in rich countries by 2030, and in other countries by 2040.  The G20 produces 80 pe rcent of all greenhouse gas pollution, and so they too must -- these 20 global leaders -- take responsibility and lead”, she said. 

Governments must also stop subsidizing fossil fuels, and provide the resources needed for the “green and blue transition”.   

Inspiration from Africa 

Ms. Mohammed asked the audience to imagine what a net-zero future could look like, using the Great Green Wall initiative in Africa as an example.  

This epic endeavour, launched in 2007, aims to combat desertification and restore degraded lands through planting 100 million trees from Senegal to Djibouti. 

For the UN deputy chief, the Great Green Wall is a source of inspiration as it reveals the extent of human potential. 

“Clearly the climate benefits will be enormous. But it’s about much more than keeping dust in the desert”, she said. 

“It’s about creating a green economic corridor for more than half a billion people. Men. Women. Children. One that builds local value chains, strengthens economies, and fosters a young, fast-growing workforce."

“And as an economic opportunity grows, hope for the future becomes the reality in millions of lives, and the space for terrorism and extremism recedes”. 

A green future 

Getting there, however, will require money, specifically paying annually the $100 billion annually that wealthier nations have promised for climate finance initiatives in developing countries.  Ms. Mohammed urged Governments to step up. 

“The other ingredient we need is solidarity.  Sometimes that seems to be in fairly short supply. But we do know it exists”, she continued. 

Global solidarity is what led to the Paris Agreement, as well as the Montreal Protocol, a landmark 1987 treaty on banning substances that harm the ozone layer.   

“We need to rekindle this spirit of solidarity.  And we need to do that now. It’s not too late, but the window of opportunity is closing”, she warned. 

The Deputy Secretary-General again expressed hope in humanity, as the “chorus for bold climate action is growing”. 

She called for people everywhere to again demand that leaders deliver on the promise of the Paris Agreement and transform our world.