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OPINION: What did the New York Climate Summit deliver, and what’s next?


CDKN’s Chief Executive Sam Bickersteth reflects on the achievements made during the UN Climate Summit in New York, and what it means for ambitious global action on climate change.

Many people gathered and many words were spoken this week in New York on the topic of climate change but will it change anything? What will all the energy put into the marches, the speeches, the side events and networking achieve for the roughly one billion people that live in the countries that CDKN seeks to support? These are the one hundred Least Developed Countries (LDC), Africa and Small Island Developing States (SIDS) who collectively only produce 5% of global greenhouse gases.

CDKN was at the Climate Marches (in New York, London and Bogota), we listened to the debates, spoke with partners and we hosted an event with leaders of each of the major island groups that make up the SIDS. There were some inspiring moments inside and outside of the UN meeting halls. 310,000 people marching through New York is a very substantial number and the diversity of the participants was striking. John Kerry spoke brilliantly on the challenge, the frustrations and the opportunities: referring to the latest alarming emissions data for 2013 (36 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide (GtCO2) emitted), he was direct in saying we are heading for a 4oC hotter world. He highlighted the importance of the US and China in leading the way, but also the benefits that new, low-carbon growth will bring. Like Kerry, Graca Machel spoke in the closing session of the Climate Summit of the mismatch between the magnitude of the problem of climate change and the response, and also of the obligation to act.

Graca Machel called for brave leadership, which might not be popular with all. Leaders spoke in ways that were careful not to offend their constituents but they did come in large numbers: some 100 Heads of State and 800 business, finance and NGO leaders. In the climate finance session, governments and private sector representatives came together and made impressive commitments. Progress was made in capitalising the Green Climate Fund with the announcement of 1 bn euros by France, the reconfirmation of a similar amount from Germany and other contributions, raising a total of $2.3bn. This is a good start but still way short of the $15 bn expected by many LDCs before Lima.

More significant was what the private sector said: banks, insurers and pension funds announced their mobilisation of at least $200 bn for low-carbon and climate-resilient investment, and decarbonising of additional investments and funds (such as the Rockefeller Foundation’s divestment from fossil fuels). The other significant boost for climate action was the intention to reinvigorate carbon markets when 73 governments and 1,000 businesses and investors agreed to support carbon pricing.

CDKN’s side event with SIDS leaders reaffirmed the shift in narrative of these and other vulnerable states from that of victims to progressive actors. Their commitment to shift to renewable energy is catching the attention of all, such that the Marshall Islands are now a regular participant in the Major Economies Forum. The Gambia, another CDKN partner and progressive voice on climate action, is also bringing its voice into this and other fora.  Leadership, as well as allocations of significant domestic resources by many developing nations for both adaptation and mitigation, are showing the way that all countries will have to follow sooner or later.

A big, emerging shift in language was the reference to net zero carbon or climate neutrality. The UN Secretary General’s summary statement spoke of “climate neutrality in the second half of the century”. As the New Climate Economy report has showed, taking steps to get to ‘net zero’ will lead to increased prosperity and the invigoration of economies. It was suggested that the call for climate neutrality may inspire people more effectively than the 2oC message.

I attended the launch of Track Zero, a new network led by Farhana Yamin to promote the concept of net zero carbon.  A line-up of inspiring women leaders, city, government and nongovernmental leaders were there to support the approach and promote it as the new way to go.

So, in summary, the reasons to come away from New York re-energised and hopeful  are:

  • Public engagement, supported by effective social media, is starting to re-emerge on climate change and there is now a momentum that activists will want to sustain through to the UNFCCC COP21 in Paris, where a new global climate deal is due to be agreed.
  • Many leaders, both of governments and private sector, or their senior representatives, have spoken of or committed themselves to action, and new funds are being committed. They will be held to account by the newfound activism.
  • A new narrative on climate neutrality is emerging which will be bedded into economic growth and poverty reduction.

There is still a very long way to go and little time to achieve it. For the most part, leaders realise that climate change needs to be addressed, but whether they will drive the rapid transformation required will depend on the quality of work done by many of those who were gathered in New York this week. CDKN, working together with its partners, will be mobilising all its resources to support an ambitious and equitable outcome from the Paris COP.

 

Image: Sam Bickersteth, Farhana Yamin, President Mary Robinson, 22 September 2014, New York; image copyright CDKN.

 

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