Climate change has gained a lot of political attention over the past few years, but with very little progress to celebrate. Even though the science-based evidence produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a leading scientific body on the topic, clearly indicates that climate change is happening now, there remains a strong divide among decision-makers.
We depend upon decision-makers, from countries of both the global North and South, to make bold commitments and to take action.
In their last meeting in Warsaw, during the 19th session of the Climate Change Conference (COP 19) in November 2013, parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) agreed to commence preparations of a draft binding-document to abate climate change. This document is premeditated to be reviewed in the session taking place in Lima (COP 20) with the hope of getting signed in Paris in 2015 (COP 21).
To that effect, the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has invited world leaders, from government, finance, business, and civil society to attend a Climate Summit taking place in New York this September 2014. The Summit is carefully planned on the margins of the annual General Assembly meetings, which are attended by the world leaders, in order to “galvanize and catalyze climate action” (United Nations 2014). These leaders are asked to bring bold announcements and actions to the Summit that will reduce carbon emissions, strengthen climate resilience, and mobilize political will for a meaningful legal agreement in 2015.
But how likely is this to happen?
In order to answer this question, and in the context of a new legally binding agreement, it is important to address two main issues that are causing the divide.
First, will countries, which are responsible presently or historically for the greatest amounts of CO2e emissions, commit to any form of reduction or capping?
China and the United States, for example, the world’s two largest economies, are responsible for emitting nearly half the planet’s carbon dioxide emissions. Yet neither country has agreed on the Kyoto Protocol, the only legally binding international treaty to cap or reduce industrialized countries’ carbon emissions. As a consequence, it becomes rather difficult, if not impossible, to secure any international consensus without bold and ambitious steps taken by these countries to abate climate change.
Second, to what extent are developed countries ready to assist and provide developing countries with finance, knowledge transfer, and innovative technology?
So far, the Green Climate Fund (GCF), which is intended to be the centerpiece of ‘long term financing’ under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, has set itself a goal of raising $100 billion per year by 2020. With countries still recovering from the global financial crisis, the GCF still has a long way for reaching this goal. Ironically, and according to Stockholm’s International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the global military yearly expenditure in 2012 reached $1.7 trillion, that is, 17 times more than the yearly amount provisioned for climate change!
The Climate Summit 2014 provides a unique opportunity for world leaders to support an ambitious vision, anchored in action that will enable a meaningful global agreement in 2015. On a practical level, it can raise the ceiling of climate negotiations to a more promising platform characterized by convergence and not divergence, by finding solutions and not winning debates. So will these leaders step up to assume responsibility on this matter this September?
United Nations (2014) http://www.un.org/climatechange/summit/ (Accessed 3pm 21 August 2014)
Samer Frangieh is an MSc in Sustainable Urban Development student (2013) about to commence his second year. Samer is an Expert at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Doha, Qatar.