BERLIN, Germany (AP) — With global temperatures rising, superstorms taking their deadly toll, and a year-end deadline to firm up the Paris climate deal, leaders at this year’s UN General Assembly are feeling a sense of urgency to keep up the momentum on combating climate change.
That’s why, in-between discussing how to tackle wars, poverty and deadly diseases around the world, leaders will be devoting substantial time in New York this week to the question of global warming and how to rein it in.
There’ll be talk of emissions targets and the need to adapt to the inevitable changes already underway when small island states take the floor at the annual gathering. Ministers from major economies, meanwhile, will be meeting behind closed doors to discuss who will pay to help poor countries avoid the worst effects of global warming — and prevent a wave of climate refugees in future.
Outside the confines of the United Nations, campaigners and businesspeople will meet during New York Climate Week, the most high-profile event of which will be the second edition of French President Emmanuel Macron’s One Planet Summit, today. Also today, more countries are expected to sign on to the Talanoa Statement that calls for fast action on tackling short-lived climate pollutants. The statement was first issued at the Global Climate Action Summit and current signatories include Japan, New Zealand, Norway, the Philippines, Sweden, the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, the United Nations Environment Programme, and World Resources Institute (WRI).
About the only leader not expected to dwell on climate change is President Donald Trump, who last year announced his intention to withdraw the United States from the 2015 Paris accord. He says it represents a bad deal for the American people.
His stance isn’t shared by many US governors, mayors and businesspeople who met recently in San Francisco for the Global Climate Action Summit, an event designed to show that parts of America are firmly behind the Paris Agreement, with its ambitious goal of limiting the worldwide temperature rise by 2100 to less than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) and as close as possible to 1.5 degrees C.
Tomorrow WRI will release a major report on restoring confidence in the Green Climate Fund (GCF) at an event from 2:00-3:00 pm at Westin Grand Central. The GCF is currently facing a crisis of confidence, illustrated most recently by the unproductive board meeting in July 2018 and the departure of its executive director. With the last board meeting weeks away and a new term beginning in January, the report explores two sets of issues that are fundamental to restoring confidence in the GCF: expanding the financial resource pool and tackling governance problems.
Also on Thursday, the Carbon Neutrality Coalition hosts an event at UN Headquarters at 1:15 pm to inaugurate the coalition under the leadership of New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Marshall Islands President Hilda Heine. The event will be a platform to announce that Canada, Denmark and the UK are joining the coalition.
Climate Week will also feature a number of countries signing the Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters in Latin America and the Caribbean (otherwise known as LAC P10 or the Escazú Agreement) to protect environmental defenders and peoples’ rights to information. The event features high-level speakers including Andrew Steer, Patrick Gaspard, heads of state and ministers, and takes places at Open Society Foundation at 6:00 pm.
“These meetings are incredibly important for building confidence and cooperation,” Svenja Schulze, Germany’s environment minister, told reporters on a recent conference call from Canada, where she was meeting with her counterparts from other Group of Seven countries.
By December, leaders need to agree on what’s known as the Paris rulebook, which sets out how countries will track their climate efforts in a way that is transparent, fair and meaningful, Schulze said. “All the conferences are building blocks leading up to that,” she said.
Like many European countries, Germany experienced an unusually dry summer this year, forcing the Government to bail out thousands of farmers whose livelihoods were threatened by crop failures. Still, Europe’s largest economy keeps burning coal, considered the most harmful of all fossil fuels.
Failure to reach an agreement by the time the annual climate meeting is held in Katowice, Poland, would mark a major setback for the 180 countries that have ratified the Paris accord.
If the combined glamour, wealth and power assembled in New York don’t do the trick, the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change being released at the beginning of October might well focus minds.
The report, condensing the findings of the world’s top climate scientists, is expected to say that the toughest target set in Paris three years ago — of keeping warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius — will be almost impossible to meet. Average global temperatures have already risen by almost 1 degree Celsius since the start of the industrial age, and the existing amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere mean a further rise is inevitable.
Speaking two weeks ago, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned that the world must shift away from fossil fuels by 2020 to prevent what he called “runaway climate change”.
The impact that such a planetary change could have was brought home to millions in recent weeks with the onslaught of Hurricane Florence and Typhoon Mangkhut, which experts say could become the new norm for storms in a warming world.