UN Envoys Generate Political Will to Tackle Climate Change

NEW YORK, New York, May 8, 2007 (ENS) - Climate change is no longer a matter for scientific debate, but has become a question to be solved at the international political level, the UN secretary-general's three new special envoys on the issue said today. The envoys pledged to use their experience and contacts with national leaders to stimulate a greater level of action to combat global warming.

The three envoys – former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, former South Korean Foreign Minister and General Assembly President Han Seung-soo, and former Chilean President Ricardo Lagos Escobar – held a working lunch today with Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, who announced earlier this year that tackling climate change is one of his priorities as head of the United Nations.

In their first news conference since taking up the assignment, the three envoys said Secretary-General Ban had asked them to discuss the issue with the world’s major political figures, especially national leaders, and to formulate proposals ahead of the next high-level international meeting, scheduled for September, and a follow-up conference in Bali in December.

"The scientific basis is now clear. Nobody needs to question the diagnosis," Dr. Brundtland said. "We know that the world is warming up, and we know that the issue is to be able to act quickly enough so that we can avoid the types of dramatic consequences that are also irreversible without sufficient action."

Dr. Brundtland is best known for developing the concept of sustainable development when she was chair of the World Commission of Environment and Development. In 1987 the commission published the landmark report, "Our Common Future" that defined sustainable development as "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."

A physician, Dr. Brundtland has also served as director-general of the World Health Organization.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon meets with Special Envoys on Climate Change and the principals of the Climate Change team at UN Headquarters in New York. From left: Ricardo Lagos Escobar, Gro Harlem Brundtland, Ban Ki-Moon, and Han Seung-soo. (Photo by Paulo Filgueiras courtesy UN)
Former President Lagos said, "The time for diagnosis is over. The time for action is now." He said the UN would come to play a vital role as most countries begin to realize that climate change cannot be resolved with a single policy in a single country.

Lagos founded the Foundation for Democracy and Development, which works for sustainable development. Since April 2006, he has been serving as president of the Club de Madrid, made up of former heads of state and government in democratic nations. He has led the organization to increase its involvement in environmental issues.

"This is the first time where we’ve had a global problem that has to be faced at the global level," Lagos said. "And therefore it’s here in this institution where we’re going to be able to solve that or we’re going to fail."

Reports issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change earlier this year and a new report issued Friday show that the warming of the Earth’s climate system is unequivocal and attributable to human activities, and will have severe economic effects, particularly in developing countries, unless quick action is taken to avert it.

Lagos said that the envoys would concentrate on convincing national leaders, in both developed and developing countries, of the environmental and economic value of seeking alternative fuels to meet their energy needs instead of coal, oil and gas. Burning these fuels emits heat-trapping greenhouse gases that raise the planetary temperature.

He noted that many of the initiatives and proposals for dealing with climate change are emerging from civil society, and the envoys would try to build on them.

A former President of the UN General Assembly, Han said he was "awed by the responsibility" granted to him and his fellow envoys by the secretary-general.

Han currently heads the Korea Water Forum, which works towards sustainable water management in Asia. He served previously in numerous high-level government posts, including Minister of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Minister of Trade and Industry, Chief of Staff to the President and Korean Ambassador to the United States.

Brundtland stressed that the envoys would make sure they would not cut across existing UN efforts to deal with climate change, but would use their influence and reach among national leaders to generate political momentum on the issue.

Meanwhile, new ways of dealing with the problems created by climate change are expected to emerge from the meetings of two technical groups under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC, that opened parallel 12 day sessions Monday at the Hotel Maritim in Bonn.

de Boer

In Bonn, UNFCCC Executive Secretary Yvo de Boer reflected on his first eight months in the job and urged a long-term global response to climate change. (Photo courtesy Earth Negotiations Bulletin)
During the next 10 days, the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice will take up issues such as impacts, vulnerability and adaptation to climate change, the development and transfer of technologies, reducing emissions from deforestation in developing countries, and climate change mitigation.

The Subsidiary Body for Implementation will consider national communications, the adverse effects of climate change, capacity building, compliance with the Kyoto Protocol, arrangements for intergovernmental meetings, the financial mechanism, including two funds - the Least Developed Countries Fund and Adaptation Fund.

A Working Group to map the way forward after the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012 will meet from May 14 to 18 in Bonn.

And a workshop on long-term cooperative action to address climate change by enhancing implementation of the UNFCCC will take place from May 16 and 17, also in Bonn.

The meeting participants will issue draft decisions that will be forwarded to the conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the conference of Parties to the Kyoto Protocol set for December in Bali, Indonesia.