Yesterday’s Climate Summit in New York was attended by over 120 world leaders and produced some bold statements and the outline of some concrete commitments.
Climate change was seen as a defining issue of our time with President Obama saying that ““We are the first generation to feel the effect of climate change and the last generation who can do something about it”. Speaker after speaker, including David Cameron, recognised that climate change is a major threat to poverty eradication.
However, in order for action on climate change to contribute to poverty eradication and sustainable development, the siloed approach of the UN’s climate and post-2015 processes still need to be broken down.
According to UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon: “The purpose of the 2014 Climate Summit was to raise political momentum for a meaningful universal climate agreement in Paris in 2015”. From that perspective, the Summit was a huge success as leader after leader – within their allotted 4 minutes – lined up to commit to a binding global deal next year, with the aim of keeping global warming to a maximum 2 degree rise.
The second aim was to “to galvanize transformative action in all countries to reduce emissions and build resilience to the adverse impacts of climate change”. Leaders made specific commitments on issues such as adapting to the impacts of climate change, increasing levels of renewable energy (Nicaragua will have 90% renewable energy by 2020) and reducing deforestation (different groups signed up to The New York Declaration on Forests). Countries committed to decarbonising their economy with Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli of China reaffirming a 45% reduction in carbon use by 2020, as well as ambitious commitments by Sweden to become carbon neutral and Denmark to be free of fossil fuels by 2050.
However, although poverty and sustainable development were frequently mentioned, you’d be forgiven for thinking that those present at the Climate Summit yesterday were unaware (or at least not making the connection) that today and tomorrow the UN General Assembly is debating the other major UN agreement to be reached next year – the post-2015 development agenda.
For the post-2015 framework to be truly transformational it needs to ensure that action on climate change is integrated into all of the relevant goal areas, such as forests, cities, energy, agriculture and water – all topics that were discussed in detail at yesterday’s Climate Summit.
However, the current separation of these UN processes (including different negotiating teams, different means of implementation, often channelled through different government ministries) is actually a significant threat to reaching concrete action on climate change.
The two processes have the potential to be complementary. They will both need to be implemented through national development plans, with significant overlap in the issues covered, and will be seeking finance from similar (existing, new and innovative) sources. Never mind that they will be agreed within weeks of each other (end of September and beginning of December 2015).
There is still need for a more coordinated UN approach to make these processes complementary and not competing so that we can tackle climate change and eradicate poverty.