Image source: UN Press
Over 100 heads of state, including Barack Obama and David Cameron, met at the United Nations (UN) headquarters in New York on 23rd September 2014 for a day that could prove to be the turning point for the future of our planet and its inhabitants.
The focal point of the Summit was ensuring that, as a planet, we remain on a pathway to <2 degrees Celsius temperature change compared to pre-industrial levels.
The summit saw a number of political figures and business leaders give speeches in an attempt to generate political momentum for a universal climate treaty in Paris in 2015 to reduce carbon emissions and prevent climate change.
Secretary-General of the UN, Ban Ki-Moon addressed the summit at 8am (EST) and closed his speech stating "we are not here to talk, we are here to make history". This was a powerful statement coming from a key political figure who declared that carbon emissions must be drastically reduced after 2020. He noted that the UN's own actions will be carbon neutral by this date too.
Newly appointed UN Messenger of Peace, Leonardo DiCaprio, delivered a passionate talk declaring that the world was currently behaving as though climate change were fiction happening to another planet elsewhere, demanding that the human race act immediately as the threat of climate change is real and is happening now.
DiCaprio joined the 400,000 people who descended upon the streets of New York on 21st September 2014 prior to the summit to march for action to curb climate change. He addressed the UN as a "concerned citizen" and told world leaders that the topic of climate change is not rhetoric or hysteria, but is a real and serious problem that we face.
Leonardo DiCaprio's Powerful Climate Summit Speech
Leonardo DiCaprio's 2014 UN Climate Summit Speech
Video sourced from: YouTube - The Daily Conversation
The question on most people's lips now is "what is going to change?". The discussions have happened and promises have been made, so what action will now be taken?
Ban Ki-Moon's Summary
After each climate summit, the chair person, in this case Ban Ki-Moon, summarizes the proceedings of the event, detailing the agenda, items discussed and agreements made.
There were a number of significant announcements which constitute the UN Climate Summit 2014 as a resounding success.
Long-Term Vision for the Prevention of Climate Change
World leaders during the Summit acknowledged that action to combat climate change must begin immediately with the view of eradicating poverty and the promotion of sustainable development. Leaders agreed that climate change is a serious issue and that emissions must be reduced as soon as possible and that they themselves would take a commanding role in the efforts to do so.
Many agreed that countries should be taking national action which pursues the pathway to limit the global temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels and many committed to do so. They also committed to finalising an agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) at the 21st Conference of the Parties on Climate Change (COP) which takes place in Paris, 2015 and that a draft of this agreement would be decided upon by COP-20 in Lima. Leaders were unanimous in deciding that this agreement be binding, durable and effective whilst many highlighted that addressing loss and damage, particularly in developing countries, was also important.
Reducing Carbon Emissions
There is said to be a specific window of opportunity that currently exists where, if we were to immediately and indefinitely cut all of our emissions globally, staying within 2 degrees Celsius (compared to pre-industrial levels) is possible. However, if we do not cut our emissions in the near future then this window will be forever closed and global runaway could occur.
A date of 2020 was agreed upon by global leaders to peak in greenhouse gas emissions and thereafter permanently reducing them with the hope that there will be climate neutrality by the second half of the 21stcentury. Countries from the European Union (EU) committed to a target of a reduction in emissions by 40% below 1990 levels by 2030.
Corporations, countries and cities agreed to utilize techniques to improve the efficiency of vehicle fuel, lighting, appliances, buildings and district energy to double the rate of global energy efficiency by 2030.
To help with the reduction of carbon emissions, deforestation must be stopped. The New York Declaration of Forests (NYDF), supported by 150 partners including governments, companies and civil society groups, has pledged to cut rates of deforestation globally by half by 2030.
Agricultural and meat retailers agreed to adapt their supply chains to build resistance to climate change and to reduce carbon emissions. This includes assisting 500 million farmers worldwide.
Funding Climate-Resilient/Low-Carbon Technology
A new coalition of governments, businesses, finance and multilateral banks have announced that they intend to mobilize over $200 billion to fund climate-resilient development and low-carbon technology. Countries reaffirmed their support and the global target of $100 billion by 2020. Strong support for the Green Climate Fund was expressed by leaders and a lot of them pleaded to have the initial capital for the Fund set at no less than $10 billion.
A total of $2.3 billion was announced by six nations as their initial contributions to the Fund with a further six others contributing by November 2014. The EU also committed $3 billion for efforts of mitigation between 2014 and 2020 in developing countries. By the end of 2015, the International Development Finance Club (IDFC) stated that the world is on the right path to be contributing $100 billion each year to combat climate change.
To ensure that markets have the policy signals needed to invest in climate change, a price must be put on carbon emissions. Many leaders agreed to join a Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition to strengthen carbon pricing policies and redirect investment.
Looking on to Lima, Paris and Beyond
Ban Ki-Moon closed his summary by thanking governments, business officials, finance and civil society for their attendance, ambition and commitment to the global cause to prevent Climate Change.
He stated that we need to maintain a strong pursuit of the visions laid out by governments and world leaders and that the pledges and commitments made throughout the day be fulfilled and expanded further. He went on to say that looking forwards to Lima (in 2014) and Paris (in 2015) that we can look back to this Summit as the day, as a human family, we committed to a sustainable, safe and prosperous future.
Messages to take from UN Climate Summit 2014
China - a Responsible, Major Country
The first and possibly most significant development at the UN Climate Summit is that China, for the first time in their history, have stated that they will take decisive action to reduce their carbon emissions by 2020.
Zhang Gaoli, China's Vice-Premier stated that, compared to their emissions in 2005, there will be a 45% reduction per unit carbon. Considering China is the largest contributor to carbon emissions, this will have a huge impact in slowing climate change.
Declaring China as a "responsible major country", Zhang said that China must make an even bigger effort than others to help combat this global crisis. He went on to say that in 2014 China consumed its lowest amount of coal for over a decade and that they have come on leaps and bounds since the Copenhagen UN summit in 2009. At the summit in Denmark, the now ex-President Hu Jintao made similar claims about China reducing their emissions. The efforts that China have made since then show that progress is being made.
Put a Price on Carbon
In Ban Ki-Moon's opening comments he stated that we must "put a price on carbon" and this was supported by the vast majority of the summit including the World Bank Group, World Economic Forum and We Mean Business Coalition who announced that they will be setting up a carbon pricing leadership coalition which will work with businesses and government leaders across the world to develop an internal price on carbon emissions.
Eradication of Deforestation
The endorsement of the NYDF by global leaders and businesses is a strong indicator that we can realize a near future with little or no deforestation devastating areas of the world and contributing to climate change. This will help to eliminate between 4.5 and 8.8 billion tons of carbon dioxide each year. That is equivalent to removing the emissions of one billion cars operating all year.
Is this a Sign of Things to Come?
Many have described the progress made on this momentous day as "a fool's paradise" criticizing the event for not being a "formal" negotiation on the topic of Climate Change. Whilst true that world leaders could return to their countries and do nothing about anything discussed at the Summit, the mounting pressure by other heads of state, celebrities and most importantly the general population of the planet as a whole, leaders would be foolish to ignore the outcries of the entire world.
Mark Kenber, chief executive of The Climate Group had a very positive outlook with regards to the proceedings at the Summit. He stated that it was good to see an unprecedented number of heads of state and government committing to global climate agreements.
If all goes well and promises are kept and commitments seen through, September 23rd 2014 will go down as the date the leaders of our planet made history.