Some progress but nations still fail to take steps to unite on climate change

Sep 2014

The Climate Summit in New York yesterday was the beginning of a call to arms; arms against climate change. But with each country at the Summit reiterating ‘doing their own thing’ to curb climate change, there was a notable absence of a sense of a united front, ambitious vision or urgency. Political divisions were obvious with finger pointing by emerging countries at those responsible for this mess (the developed nations), and defensive non-committal responses from the big industrialised nations. Whether the reiteration of current pledges, and some new ones, represents solid commitment we won’t know until the next UNFCCC meeting in Paris 2015.

Firstly the big nations disappointed. US President Barack Obama reaffirmed its commitment to a reduction in GHG emissions in the “region of 17%” by 2020 but he didn’t make any bolder statement. Although recognising that as a large economy they should take the lead he also implied that the USA will only step up if others do saying in his speech - “Just a few minutes ago I met with Chinese vice premier Zhang Gaoli and reiterated my beliefs that, as the two largest economies and emitters in the world, we have a special responsibly to lead. That’s what big nations have to do.”

Additionally Barack Obama intimated that emerging economies need to step up as their economies are growing. “Emerging economies are likely to produce more and more carbon emissions in years to come. So nobody can stand on the sidelines of this issue, we have to set aside the old divides,” he said.

The USA is the biggest emitter of CO2 per capita – IT needs to step up!

China seems to be taking a more ambitious stance but is still hanging back. Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli said that China will “announce post-2020 actions on climate change as soon as we can to markedly reduce carbon intensity, increase the share of non-fossil fuels, and raise the forest stock. We will also try to bring about the peaking of total CO2 emissions as soon as possible”.

According to the Vice Premier, China has achieved the following: “In 2013, China’s carbon intensity was down 28.5 percent from the 2005 level. According to World Bank report, China contributed 58 percent of all the energy saved globally between 1991 and 2010. In 2013 the installed renewable capacity in China was 24 percent of world total and forest stock in China grew 2 billion cubic meters from 2005 levels.”

But China is not willing to be a leader in the negotiations. Zhang Gaoli’s response to US President Barack Obama’s suggestion that responsibilities between developed and developing countries should be redrawn was that no he thinks they should remain the same. In other words China does not need to do as much as the USA.

Neither party showed interest in a legally-binding universal agreement. At least Brazil President Dilma Rousseff was for such an agreement. But most “differentiated responsibility” in the final climate agreement was a common demand from most nations, including Brazil, and clearly still a sticky issue. President Rousseff said that although her country is committed to tackling climate change and that a legally-binding universal agreement was necessary, she defended the need to take “balanced and ambitious measures” that respect the principles of “equity and common, but differentiated, responsibilities.” While Uganda’s president Yoweri Museveni said: “Most unfortunately, this is not the fault of Africa. This is the fault of North America, Europe, and some parts of Asia.” But such a statement from an African Nation is permissible.

Prime Minister David Cameron said it was “playing its part” by forging ahead with it’s commitment to cutting GHG emissions by 80% by 2050. How it is to do this was not explained; and no commitment to a legally-binding agreement was mentioned, nor further pledges.

While Denmark could stand tall, and proud, at the Summit. Simply stating that Denmark will be fossil free by 2050. If they can do it others can!

Although many pledges were made, contributions to the Green Climate Fund still fell far short of the $100 billion needed (and committed to at last year’s COP18 in Warsaw). France joined Germany in pledging $1bn of climate aid over the next few years while Switzerland, South Korea and Denmark also pledged $270 million to the Fund.

A very positive declaration was made on forests.  27 governments and more than 100 companies and organisations committed to end global deforestation by 2030. That was something.

Meanwhile World Bank president Dr. Jim Yong Kim indicated the business’ interest in a universal price on carbon. According to the World Resources Institute’s live feed, he said that “73 national governments and over 1,000 companies, which together represent 52 percent of global GDP, 54 percent of emissions, and almost 50 percent of world population, support a carbon price”.

The Summit reminds one of the Israel-Palestinian conflict; where old wounds and historical differences prevent parties finding consensus or peace. Also, those most powerful are unwilling to budge for the greater good. Historical production of GHG emissions should not prevent countries from curbing current and future emissions! America and China are the biggest economies. They have the best position and opportunity to curb climate change impacts but their ego (and vested interests) prevent them from doing enough.

African nations are not yet in the position to contribute significantly to GHG emission cuts and should be exempted – but helped to do so in the long run. But what about the likes of Brazil? They have experienced huge economic growth recently (although this is slowing). They are in a position to drive change as well. It would be exciting and uplifting to see an emerging economy skip western countries’ industrial revolution and go straight to a ‘green revolution’ (not the agricultural kind!).

We are all in this mess together. This is actually an exciting opportunity; a chance to escape the fossil fuel era that has defined so much of our recent history, that has driven so much conflict and caused health and environmental problems along the way; a chance to embrace new, efficient, cleaner technologies; a chance to leap into the future.

Fossil fuels have contributed immeasurably to our well-being and economic prosperity. Without the fossil fuel era we would not have the life quality we can experience today. But the costs are now clearly outweighing the benefits. Therefore it is time for a new era based on cleaner energy sources, protection of our forests, biodiversity and environmental services, new non-fossil-fuel based transport systems and a green, circular economy.

By Philippa Shepherd

Quotes have been obtained from the UN live webtv and Guardian site. See: