The Climate Summit: Fresh momentum in the climate debate

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At the invitation of the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, 120 world leaders descended on New York for the UN Climate Summit on 23 September 2014. The Summit was a platform for them to reaffirm their commitment to addressing climate change, and renew political will ahead of the UN Summit in Paris 2015, when a new global agreement is due.

Poor communities around the world know only too well the threat from a changing climate to their homes, livelihoods and wellbeing. As new research by CAFOD shows, almost half of those most vulnerable to a changing climate are already living in extreme poverty. Climate change could push them over the edge.

So did the Summit bring us closer to protecting these vulnerable communities, as well as tackling its causes by cutting greenhouse gases emissions?

The 2014 Climate Summit. Photograph: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

The 2014 Climate Summit. Photograph: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

The world’s largest emitters, the USA and China, spoke about the urgent need to cut emissions and pledged to work together to find a common solution. However, they did not promise new commitments, although China has said that an announcement will be forthcoming.

The UK Prime Minister said that climate change was “a threat to our national security, to global security, to poverty eradication and to economic prosperity.” CAFOD welcomes this recognition of the threat climate change poses to poverty eradication and development.

Almost all countries present reaffirmed their commitment to keep any rise in temperature to below the 2 degrees indicated by science.

But it still begs the question: will developed countries, including the UK, put sufficient support on the table over the next few months to reduce carbon emissions and support communities at risk? Actions over the past few days leave us little the wiser and show there is still all to play for.

Green Climate Fund

In 2009, developed countries committed to providing US$100 billion a year by 2020 in finance to help poorer countries support actions to mitigation emissions and build less polluting development by 2020.

To date, there has been little progress on this. The coffers of a new Green Climate Fund – set to become the main channel for climate finance – remain largely empty. CAFOD with other NGOs wrote to the Prime Minister ahead of the Summit requesting the UK contributes $1 billion as its fair share towards kick-starting the Fund.

Several European countries at the Summit did make concrete pledges to the Green Climate Fund – most notably France ($1billion). However, not enough to build the confidence of developing countries that there will be a fair deal for them at Paris – and still woefully short of the money needed.

The UN Climate Summit took place against the backdrop of UN discussions around the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) replacing the Millennium Development Goals next year. As another recent report by CAFOD and agencies outlines, climate change must be addressed within the timeframe of the new framework – 2015-30 – otherwise it will fail to eradicate poverty.

The New Climate Economy Report

Many leaders at the UN Climate Summit also noted that tacking climate change and economic prosperity can and must go hand in hand, calling for investment in new, low-carbon infrastructure.

This echoes the findings of the New Climate Economy report, from the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate chaired by former President of Mexico Felipe Calderon and reviewed by Lord Stern, outlining the potential economic growth that could be realised from a low carbon future.

The report noted that research and development, significant investment and, crucially, the backing of governments, is critical to delivering a transition. In calling for fossil fuel subsidies to be phased out and highlighting the importance of a global climate agreement in driving confidence in the investment needed for a low carbon future, the report authoritatively outlined the dual benefits of reducing emissions and green growth.

The Catholic Church

The Holy See was present at the Climate Summit, represented by Secretary of State Cardinal Parolin. Cardinal Parolin challenged the sluggishness that has characterised climate negotiations in recent years, saying climate change was above all, a question of ‘justice, respect and equity, which must awaken our consciences’. He also affirmed the Holy See’s commitment to playing its part in protecting people and the environment.

Cardinal Rodriguez, President of Caritas Internationalis, also participated in a summit of interfaith leaders before the UN meeting (insert hyperlink:)  He also highlighted that “the impact of the changing climate is unmistakable, scientifically proven beyond a doubt and affects us all.”

The UK Political Context

Meanwhile, addressing conference delegates in Manchester, Labour Party Leader Ed Miliband put preventing dangerous climate change at the heart of his vision, as the most important thing he could do in politics for the future of his children’s generation. This clear signal, sent on the same day that PM David Cameron spoke in New York, shows that climate change has moved from the margins higher up the agenda of political debate.

Summary

Unless we confront climate change, we won’t be able to end poverty. CAFOD’s new climate and energy campaign is calling for leaders to act to prevent climate change pushing people deeper into poverty and support a global shift away from polluting fossil fuels to sustainable energy for all. This can not only protect the climate but provide energy services for the billions of people currently without access to electricity or clean cooking facilities.

World leaders and negotiators must now hit the ground running with renewed commitment for an agreement in Paris in 2015.  In the UK, cross-party commitment has been reinvigorated. Concrete actions s to phase out fossil fuels at home while helping poor countries both adapt to the impacts of climate change and build low carbon, socially inclusive economies are now needed.  Leaders must realise that they can no longer ignore the scientific consensus and the human, economic and moral imperative and increasing public pressure to act.

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