On Tuesday 23rd September an emergency UN climate summit was held in New York, called by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon. 125 world leaders attended – more than have ever assembled before. The hope was that if leaders could come together in the spirit of cooperation outside of the high pressure environment of the COP meetings, we may finally see some progress towards achieving a global agreement in Paris next year. There were glimpses of progress at the summit, such as China signalling it’s intention to peak emissions as soon as possible, but the danger is that much of it may prove to be hot air and empty rhetoric.
Meanwhile people around the world are taking to the streets. On Sunday 21st September a People’s Climate March united hundreds of thousands of people in 188 countries, with over 300, 000 marching in NYC alone. On Tuesday thousands more flooded Wall Street. The scale and global coordination of this movement was unprecedented. Their message was clear: it is time to stop talking and start taking action. We have watched governments negotiate for over twenty years, while emissions have continued to rise. We no longer have the luxury of time on our side; our window for action is closing. Several speeches at the UN summit, including that of Barack Obama, mentionedSunday’s climate march. “Our citizens keep marching. We cannot pretend we do not hear them,” the president said.
Yet there were still few commitments seen at the summit, despite the congratulatory tone of the meeting. It seemed as if the representatives were happy enough with the turnout, rather than what was actually achieved as an outcome of the gathering. Real action on climate appeard to be left to business, cities and campaign groups
One person present who noticed the lack of commitment was the widow of Nelson Mandela, saying world leaders had failed to rise to the challenge of climate change. “There is a huge mismatch between the magnitude of the challenge and the response we heard here today,” Graça Machel told the closing moments of the summit. “The scale is much more than we have achieved.” Although it is good to see someone with a clear hear head, this won’t make much of a difference if leaders don’t react to Machel’s criticisms.
A six-day forum in Germany is currently underway. It must lay the foundations for the annual round of ministerial-level UN talks to be held in Lima [Peru] in December, Christiana Figueres told delegates as the meeting opened. “Today, dear delegates, the world’s eyes turn to you. It is up to you to chart the path of that solution.”
Negotiators face a difficult challenge of settling long-standing differences of opinion over how to share responsibility for curbing Earth-warming greenhouse gas emissions. The aim is to limit global warming to 2C above pre-Industrial Revolution levels, and save the planet from potentially catastrophic climate damage. The major question is whether the new agreement be an all inclusive international treaty, a loose voluntary pact or something in between. This question gets to the thorny issue of fairness, which has been a common theme at negotiations between rich and poor nations for decades.
As Figueres stressed, the new climate pact, due to enter into force in 2020, “must irreversibly bend the curb of emissions”, which have continued to rise. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that based on current trends, the planet could be up to 4.8C warmer by 2100 and sea levels up to 82 centimetres (32 inches) higher.
So where does New Zealand fit in to all of this?
“A representative from New Zealand did not speak summit in September due to issues arising from the recent election”, according to a Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson. However Minister of Foreign Affairs Hon. Murray McCully did participate in the summit and New Zealand’s Climate Change Ambassador Jo Tyndall gave an address on behalf of the Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases, highlighting the work of the Alliance.
In the recent past New Zealand has started to lean towards the thinking of the U.S.A, believing that developing countries such as China and India would have to agree to be held to the same legal standards in the next agreement. This suggests we would be looking to an international agreement, rather than a legally binding one solely for developed countries, much like the Kyoto Protocol.
A recent proposal issued by the New Zealand Government – “Submission to the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action Work Stream” – calls for countries to set domestic emissions targets of their choosing, then face legal obligations to give the United Nations a schedule for when those cuts will happen and to submit to binding review measures. The big numbers, though, the tonnes of climate pollution each nation will slash, would not be internationally legally binding. It seems to be another of those ‘get out of jail free’ cards for NZ. As Michael Dorsey, interim director of the energy and environment programme at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies in Washington, D. C. says, “when countries are given a pass — and a pass is voluntarism — without being forced to sign on the dotted line on a legally binding agreement, more often than not, countries don’t deliver on those commitments.”
For a delegate travelling to the negotiations this year, I hope to see something stronger from New Zealand, as this proposal would not achieve the 2 degree target. We need greater pressure from the New Zealand public, especially youth, on the government to put our futures first. Our own climate march drew 300 protesters to Queen Street in Auckland, a good number, but I think our voice could be much stronger.
If you’re keen to learn more about the Bonn conference, click here: http://youthdelegation.org.nz/2014/10/28/2508/