Saturday, September 13, 2014

Stakes Higher Than Ever, Climate Summit Aims to Be Turning Point for Global Action

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, pictured here, is hoping for "bold actions" at the upcoming climate summit in New York City. (Credit: Mark Garten, flickr) Click to enlarge.
A United Nations chief dismayed at the lack of resolve toward the climate crisis; a daunting deadline for negotiating a new treaty; 125 or so heads of state; a sprawling agenda of fossil fuels, food, forestry and finance; a train of think tanks hauling gigabytes of green data; countless teach-ins, press conferences, art shows—plus tens or even hundreds of thousands of activists marching through midtown Manhattan, demanding action now.
"In the real world what we see is significant climate action being taken not only by individual nations, but by all sorts of other actors: municipalities, states, individuals, businesses, sectors, all are taking action," wrote Michael Liebreich, chairman of the advisory board of Bloomberg New Energy Finance .  "There are bilateral deals, multilateral actions in all sorts of forums. Is it enough to limit climate change to 2°C?  Not yet.  But it is enough to demonstrate that a top-down deal is far from the be-all and end-all of climate action—indeed that it may not be needed at all."

But some kind of a deal—whether top-down, bottom-up or inside-out—is what the leaders of all these events are looking for, and the sooner the better. 

They are trying to reinvigorate a series of talks over the next 15 months that will culminate in Paris in December, 2015, the target date for a binding treaty that would take full force in 2020. A draft treaty is supposed to be put on the table at the end of this year at a meeting in Lima, Peru.  By next spring, every country is supposed to be ready to spell out what commitments it is willing to make. 

What UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is hoping for at this month's summit, he has said, is "bold actions" that will lend momentum to the negotiations, which have only crept forward since the last big attempt to reach a binding treaty failed in 2009 at Copenhagen.  "I remain alarmed that governments and businesses have still failed to act at the pace and scale needed," he has said. 

Not that the New York summit is guaranteed to produce a grand bargain, or even a clear path forward for the negotiations.  Ban's key aide, Selwyn Hart, told reporters in a conference call the other day that the summit "is not part of the formal negotiations" and "will not solve the problem of climate change by itself."

Nevertheless, he said, "it can be an important turning point that will allow us to move towards a pathway that will limit the temperature increase below 2 degrees," he said.  "We expect leaders to reaffirm their commitment to a 2 degree path." 

For the past year, the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change  (IPCC), keeper of the scientific consensus, has been declaring that the situation is dire.  The draft of its latest summation , leaking out just in time for the New York summit, warned again of "severe, pervasive and irreversible" impacts if the world does not change course.

Stakes Higher Than Ever, Climate Summit Aims to Be Turning Point for Global Action

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