UN Debates Urgent Action to Avert Global Warming

NEW YORK, New York, July 31, 2007 (ENS) – Top United Nations officials joined invited climate experts today in urging decisive action on a global scale to combat the challenges posed by climate change.

"We cannot continue with business as usual," Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told a General Assembly meeting on the issue at UN Headquarters in New York. He cited the findings of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which confirmed earlier this year that global warming is directly linked to human activities.

"I believe this is just the kind of global challenge that the UN is best suited to address," said Ban. "I am gratified by the universal recognition that the UN climate process is the appropriate forum for negotiating future global action."

"I am determined to minimize the UN system’s own carbon footprint, and to make this a climate-neutral organization," the secretary-general said. "To that end, I have launched a Greening the UN initiative. I have invited all heads of agencies and other UN bodies to work with me on a comprehensive plan covering our worldwide premises and operations."

The two day informal debate that opened today is the first devoted exclusively to climate change. Delegates are seeking to translate the growing scientific consensus on the problem into a broad political consensus for action following alarming UN reports earlier this year on its potentially devastating effects.

Ban called for "new thinking" to tackle the challenge, since how it is addressed "will define us, our era, and ultimately, our global legacy." He is convening a high-level meeting on climate change when the new Assembly session starts in September.

Ban highlighted the need for a comprehensive global agreement under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The Kyoto Protocol, the international community's current framework for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, expires in 2012, and Ban said countries must agree on a successor pact to be ready for ratification by 2009 to allow countries to enact it into law before the Kyoto Protocol expires.

From left, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and General Assembly President Haya Rashed Al Khalifa address the debate on climate change. (Photo by Eskinder Debebe courtesy UN)
President of the General Assembly Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa spoke of the "cruel irony" of the disproportionate effects of climate change on the countries least responsible for it.

"Greater variations of rainfall, combined with rising sea levels, will lead to more extreme weather, particularly in parts of Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America," she said at the opening of today's meeting. "We therefore have a special responsibility to help those countries most affected to adapt to climate change."

Such efforts "should not be at the cost of economic growth, but to achieve it," she said, noting that "a global consensus can only be secured if all countries can share in the benefits from action to address" climate change.

The General Assembly debate itself is carbon neutral. The carbon emissions from both UN Headquarters and from the air travel to bring experts to New York have been off-set by investment in a biomass fuel project in Kenya.

Expert panelist Sir Nicholas Stern of the London School of Economics said, "The cost of strong and timely action in addressing the global causes and impacts of climate change far less than that of inaction or timid and delayed responses." Stern's 2006 climate change report, "The Stern Review," received international attention for its conclusion that addressing the climate change issue now is the best economic choice.

Speaking at a press conference at UN Headquarters, Stern proposed a nine-point plan, including a 50 percent cut by 2050 in world greenhouse gas emissions, relative to 1990 emission levels.

Rich countries should work towards a target of around 75 percent cuts, he said, as well as specific targets for 2020.

Stern said that the risks of climate change could be reduced, though not eliminated, by an expenditure of one percent of world gross domestic product per year.

Strong world carbon markets should be developed and made much more simple and transparent, he said. In Stern's view, investment in technology and in the science of climate change should increase and deforestation should be addressed energetically.

Because of climate change, development will cost tens of billions more per year than previously understood, he predicted. Yet adaptation and mitigation technologies must be developed and development assistance promises delivered.

From left, Sir Nicholas Stern, Sunita Narain, and panel moderator Kemal Dervis, administrator of the UN Development Programme. (Photo by Eskinder Debebe courtesy UN)
Panelist Sunita Narain, director of the Indian Centre for Science and Environment, told the press conference that the climate change discourse is becoming "locked in the politics of the past" and "how to move ahead is the issue at hand."

Narain said the Kyoto Protocol had been too little too late, and drastic emission cuts now are necessary.

If emissions are not controlled with the speed required, there will be dramatic changes in climate and the poor will suffer its worst impacts, she said, adding that the unpredictability of rainfall levels is the consequence of climate change most harmful to women’s ability to care for themselves and their families.

She suggested that the South, which has not built its energy systems, could try to find a “leap-frog” technology to make a quick transition to a low carbon economy.

Jim Rogers, chairman and CEO of Duke Energy, said his company is the third largest consumer of coal, the fourth largest nuclear operator, and the third largest emitter of carbon dioxide in the United States.

The climate change question needs leadership not only from all governments, but also from the private sector and nongovernmental organizations around the world, he said.

In the United States, legislation on climate change is expected to be in place by 2010, said Rogers, who emphasized that companies cannot wait for that to happen.

Initiatives are being undertaken, in which energy companies such as General Electric, Dupont and some 400 other major firms have formed into coalitions to advise the government.

Duke Energy is retrofitting 29 energy supply units to address the realities of a carbon-constrained world. The investment environment must also be changed to reflect the reality of climate change, Rogers said, projecting greater investments in new technologies.

He said one way to address the problem is with “productivity gains” in the use of electricity, whereby energy efficiency products and services are delivered to consumers.

The General Assembly informal debate seeks to build momentum towards the high-level meeting in September and the upcoming negotiations under the Climate Change Convention in December in Bali, Indonesia.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2007. All rights reserved.