The UN Climate Change Summit in September focused on pledges of greater financial support for poorer countries in the fight against climate change and spurred African leaders to urge urgent action. David Thomas reports.
H.The 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg was an unforgettable moment at the United Nations climate protection summit in New York.
“You stole my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I’m one of the lucky ones. The people suffer. People die. Entire ecosystems collapse. We are at the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and a fairy tale of eternal economic growth. How dare you!”
For many, the teenagers’ blunt appraisal has been a key factor in the apathy and selfishness of executives who appear at international summits but are unwilling to make difficult decisions to avert climate disaster.
Those who believe that governments are moving far too slowly to contain global temperature rise had enough to back up their arguments in New York. The US and China, the world’s largest emitters, have made no high-profile commitments, while a decoupled President Trump paid only a fleeting visit. For delegates from Africa, who are disproportionately affected by climate change, the meeting served to reinforce a worrying lack of progress. In a speech at the General Assembly a few days after the summit, President Idriss Déby from Chad reiterated Thunberg’s pessimism.
“The lack of concrete results compared to commitments is having an impact on the fight against climate change, despite the immense hope raised by the historic Paris Climate Agreement,” he said. “The grave consequences of climate change are felt more in Africa than anywhere else, especially in the Sahel region.”
Although the conference’s shortcomings are realistic, UN diplomats insist that the climate change summit was a successful stop on the road to strengthening the 2015 Paris Agreement.
At the summit, 65 countries and large sub-national economies pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050, while 70 countries announced that they would either increase their nationally set contributions (NDCs – the contribution each country makes to reducing emissions) by 2020 or have started. UN Secretary General António Guterres says this is just the beginning.
“If our world is to avoid the cliff top, much more will be needed to answer the call of science and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45% by 2030. Achieve CO2 neutrality by 2050; and limit the temperature rise to 1.5 ° C by the end of the century. This is how we can secure the future of our world. ”
The focus is on his efforts to keep the commitments of the summit to strengthen the NDCs. Given the dire climate situation – scientists say that only limiting temperature rise to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels can prevent the most catastrophic effects of climate change by the end of the century – there is even greater pressure on the world’s largest emitters to improve your plans.
China, the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter, is on track to hit its NDC by 2030, but the plan isn’t ambitious enough to keep warming below 2 degrees, let alone 1.5 degrees, according to the Climate Action Tracker. The plans of the United States, which abandoned the Paris Agreement under President Trump, are “critically inadequate” and could not lower temperatures below 2 degrees either.
For many of the most vulnerable countries in the world – including African countries praised for delivering ambitious plans – the 2020 COP26 Climate Change Summit in Glasgow, UK, will provide a critical indicator of whether the rich world will meet its commitments. Luis Alfonso de Alba, the secretary-general’s special envoy for the climate change summit (see also interview, pages 20-21), said the revised NDCs are crucial but advise patience.
“You have to be aware that there are a number of major emitters coming on board, but in some cases it will take some time to formalize. I think we are on the right track, it is a process that should end by the end of next year and you have to be aware of that. ”
Africa needs financial support
Yet ensuring that the biggest emitters commit to ambitious NDCs is only one front in the African war on climate change. Equally important is the urgent need for expanded financial support to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change. In 2009, the most industrialized nations pledged to help the poorest by providing $ 100 billion in aid each year through 2020. A close Idriss Déby, however, did little to hide his disappointment with the financial support of Chad.
“The Paris Climate Agreement is only credible if it is accompanied by specific measures to ensure compliance with the commitments made by all parties. I want to underline the pressing need to deliver on developed countries ‘commitment to mobilize USD 100 billion a year by 2020 to meet developing countries’ needs for mitigation and adaptation. The full operationalization of the Green Climate Fund is urgently required in this regard. ”
Here, too, the summit can point to progress. Twelve countries in New York have made new financial commitments to the Green Climate Fund, the mechanism to help developing countries adapt and contain, including France, Germany, Norway and the United Kingdom. The UK has pledged to double its total international climate finance to £ 11.6 billion from 2020 to 2025, and has launched a climate investment platform that will mobilize and invest $ 1 trillion in clean energy investments by 2025 20 least developed countries are to be supported first year. But President Edgar Lungu of Zambia reiterated Deby’s call for more.
“We saw with our own eyes the devastating effects climate change had on our environment. As a developing country, Zambia needs support to improve our capacities in key areas such as scientific research, early warning, rapid response and transfer of appropriate technologies to help cope with the negative effects of climate change. ”
Given the enormous level of funding, the United Nations urged the private sector to play a bigger role. A group of the world’s largest asset owners, responsible for steering more than $ 2 trillion in investments, are committed to moving to climate-neutral investment portfolios by 2050. This coincided with the calls made by Akinwumi Adesina, President of the African Development Bank, in New York. to push cash in the private sector.
“The amount we need to adjust is only between $ 7 billion and $ 8 billion a year. We will work with pension and sovereign wealth funds to align funding towards green growth as 75% of the adjustment will come from the private sector. It is in Africa’s interest to have indigenous opportunities to finance green growth. ”
While Africa must continue the long battle for financial support beyond this summit, the New York meeting struck a strong symbolic chord, particularly in the apparent solidarity between developing country leaders and an unlikely Swedish teenager.
“Many people who have made statements have said that there is no time to negotiate, it is done, there is no time for simple debate, it is time to act,” said Mohammad Mahmood Abubakar, Nigeria’s Environment Minister. “I was just so moved [Thunberg’s] Statement and I fully agree with what she said. “