TWN Info Service on Climate Change (Feb08/02)

14 February 2008

Please see below a report of the 1st day of the UN General Assembly's thematic debate on climate change, held in New York on 11 Feb 2008.

With best wishes
Martin Khor

UN General Assembly opens climate change thematic debate
Published in SUNS #6413 dated 13 February 2008
By Meena Raman, New York, 12 Feb 2008

The United Nations General Assembly opened a three-day thematic debate on climate change on Monday, with the UN Secretary-General saying that a climate deal in Copenhagen (in 2009) is his top priority.

Mr. Ban Ki-moon called on developed countries to do more if they expect developing countries to take on a bigger role. Later, some leading UN agency chiefs advocated major changes in the global economy to cope with climate change.

The thematic debate, with the theme "Addressing climate change: The UN and the world at work", is the first major UN event on climate since the Bali climate conference last December which launched a new two-year process to accelerate talks on how to better deal with the climate crisis. This is also the second UNGA thematic debate on climate; the first was held at end-July 2007.

The executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Mr. Yvo de Boer, said a plan is needed to reshape the world economy, announced the venue and dates (Bangkok, 31 March-4 April) of the first meeting of the newly established ad hoc working group on long term cooperation (which had been set up in Bali to undertake the new process) and elaborated on the issues that he expected this meeting to cover (See end of article, and separate article).

On its first day, the General Assembly debate involved two panel discussions, on "Rising to the Challenge: Partnerships on Climate Change" and on "Responding to a Multifaceted Challenge: The UN at Work". There was also a lunch-time talk by Sir Richard Branson, chair of Virgin Group.

On Tuesday, member states will make statements, and the dialogue (originally scheduled for two days) is expected to be extended to Wednesday because of the long list of countries registering to speak.

At the opening session, Macedonia's Ambassador, Srgjan Kerim, the President of the General Assembly, said the negotiating process launched in Bali must continue to be supported.

"It is also clear that we should focus on immediate practical action. The first challenge we face is to create more effective partnerships. The UN cannot address climate change alone. We need as many actors as possible to get involved and unite in order to address its effects", he said.

"What is needed is a common vision, global consensus, a global alliance for action, shared by individuals, the media, lawmakers, business leaders, governments, regional organizations and ultimately, the global community embodied in the UN," he added.

The second challenge, he said, was to define a global strategy for the UN to respond to the many different challenges climate change poses. "Climate change has implications across a broad range of policy issues from the environment, health, security, and migration, to energy, good governance and economic development," he said.

"Climate change however, is not just and environmental issue; it is a sustainable development issue. Our response must be seen in the context of our broader international development agenda, in particular achieving the MDG goals by 2015.

"We need to reconcile the economic aspirations of developing countries with the necessity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The challenge is to find policies, instruments and technologies that can create low-carbon economies which promote sustainable economic growth and provide incentives for individuals to change behaviour," he said.

"As individuals, are we willing enough to change our lifestyles and patterns of behaviour? Are member states, business and households investing enough in energy efficiency and new technologies to curb emissions? And globally, are we making adequate efforts to adapt to the long-term effects of climate change?" he asked.

UN Secretary-General Mr. Ban Ki-moon stressed that world was at a crucial juncture. "If 2007 was the year climate change rose to top of the global agenda, 2008 is the time we must take concerted action," he said.

"As a result of the remarkable efforts of last year, the international community is armed with a powerful combination of authoritative and compelling science, a far-reaching and rising tide of public concern, and powerful declarations of political will voiced at the Bali Climate Change Conference.

"Now, the international community is compelled to come together and forge a comprehensive agreement. And the United Nations is called on to ensure we can implement existing mandates, as well as future ones." Every part of the UN system is committed to supporting Member States in mitigating and adapting to climate change.

Ban said the Bali Conference delivered on "important progress on adaptation, technology and deforestation; and agreement by all countries to launch negotiations on a new international climate change agreement by the end of 2009."

Now, the real work begins, with a huge challenge, said the SG. "We have less than two years to craft an agreement on action that measures up to what the science tells us. It will have to map out emission limitation commitments; agree on essential action to adapt to the impacts of climate change; and mobilize the necessary financing and technological innovation.

"Developed countries need to take a clear lead, but success is possible only if all countries act. The more ambitious the commitments by developed countries, the more actions we can expect from developing countries. The more developing countries engage, the more ambitiously the developed countries will commit. This is the cycle we must embark on."

Ban also introduced his "overview report" on the planned climate activities of various UN agencies. The report stemmed from discussions in the Chief Executives Board for Coordination.

"Our aim is to develop a coordination structure with key clusters of activity and specific lead agencies. How can the UN contribute to the stimulation of financial flows needed for adaptation, mitigation and climate-resilient development? How can the United Nations system provide the support developing countries need to adapt to the inevitable impacts of climate change? Answers to these and other questions will help us to focus on what the UN can and needs to deliver."

Ban repeated his point that a silver lining that comes with the dark clouds of climate change, which was "the opportunity to come together in a global, collective, inclusive and low-carbon approach to growth and development. Climate change is our opportunity to advance sustainable development; encourage new kinds of cleaner technologies, industries and jobs; and integrate climate change risks into national policies and practices.

"We have moved climate change up to the top of the agenda, where it belongs; we cannot now let those who depend on us down. We cannot fail succeeding generations who will endure the consequences of our actions; we cannot turn away from the most vulnerable, who already face the consequences of climate change today.

"A deal in Copenhagen, on time, and in full, is my priority and that of all the funds, programmes and agencies of the United Nations family."

During the day, several interesting as well as a few controversial points were raised. The Mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, said there were two pre-conditions for success at the 2009 Copenhagen UNFCCC meeting. First, the US must set real and binding emission reduction targets, which must be ambitious and achievable.

New York City has a programme to shrink its carbon footprint by 30% in 2020 and the US can do the same, said Bloomberg. The US should enact a tax on carbon emissions, as the cap and trade system is less successful, but either is a step forward.

The second pre-condition, according to Bloomberg, is "for developing countries to commit too", for example, China and India must have energy efficiency standards.

Besides existing climate measures (such as traffic congestion pricing, greening of buildings and planting trees), a new measure that New York City will take is to reduce its use and purchase of tropical hardwoods (in the making of park benches, walkways, etc).

In the first panel on partnerships, Dr Youba Sokono, executive secretary of the Sahara and Sahel Observatory, stressed that on adaptation to climate, people could not afford to wait. "We need to move from reaction to planned adaptation. Solidarity is also needed as a basis for partnership."

Martin Khor, Director of the Third World Network, agreed that partnerships should be based on solidarity and collaboration based on good faith. On the post-Bali process, he stressed that the UNFCCC and Kyoto Protocol must be supported. He said there was a serious misconception that the Kyoto Protocol was expiring in 2012 and must be replaced.

This misconception must be dispelled, he said. What is expiring is the first commitment period of the Annex I (developed) countries, and this is to be followed by a second commitment period for which negotiations are already taking place.

He said the UNFCCC and Kyoto Protocol should be defended as they contain good principles such as a recognition of historical responsibility and the principle that developed countered must take the lead and developing countries will act to the extent that the developed countries meet their finance and technology commitments.

Khor said that the post-Bali process should firstly focus on implementation of existing commitments. The implementation performance is very poor, he added. The developed countries have to meet up to their emission targets and start to meet their technology and finance obligations, in order to build the confidence that the developing countries must have to fulfill their role.

He called for action on adaptation to begin immediately as another confidence-building measure, and warned against attempts to overload the post-Bali agenda with issues such as trade measures for climate change or international competitiveness and energy security as these would divert from the key climate issues.

He added that more had to be done on finance as the main instruments used such as carbon trading did not meet most financing needs. On technology, the intellectual property issue had to be addressed if developing countries are to have access to affordable technology. The new sustainable development pathways have also to be worked out in detail.

Fiona Harvey of the Financial Times said that some businesses were engaged in "greenwash", claiming to do more than they are, and that businesses are not doing enough, and regulation is very important as the Stern review concluded.

Prof. Mohan Munasinghe, a senior official involved in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said that to break the bad cycle of development and climate, both must be tackled simultaneously. There are known practical measures already available for sustainable development at national level, and known technologies can help stabilize emissions at 450 parts per million (ppm).

"If we want durable solutions, equity is necessary," he stressed. Developing countries ought to focus on vulnerability and adaptation and developed countries should focus on de-linking growth from emissions in mitigation.

In his lunch talk, Branson called on the UN to establish a "war room" to fight climate change, and gave detailed suggestions on its functioning.

In the afternoon panel on the role of the UN, the heads of various UN departments, including the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), UNEP, UNDP, the World Food Programme, as well as the Global Environment Facility, spoke.

UN Under-Secretary and head of DESA, Mr. Sha Zukang, said the developing countries, especially the poorest, are penalized by effects of climate change and they should not be doubly penalized by having their development stopped by inappropriate measures in the fight against climate change.

He stressed that finance and technology are important, and that without progress in these areas, we cannot make progress in adaptation and mitigation. DESA's role is through policy analysis, for example, on the technology issue, to analyse what is available today, what are the barriers to technology transfer, for example, the IPR system, and how to remove those barriers.

Kemal Dervis, UNDP Administrator, stressed the importance of the UN's relationship with the Bretton Woods system, as the World Bank has the leadership role in financing energy, etc. The private sector is also key, as most investments are undertaken by them. The UN family has a very important supportive role, through its networks and linkages.

Achim Steiner, head of UNEP, said that "we have to change the economic orthodoxy", to deal with climate change. He also stressed that "we must come to grips" with the international environment framework so that it can meet the challenge of the 21st century.

Making closing remarks of the day, the UNFCCC executive secretary Yvo de Boer said Bali launched a two- year negotiating process on long term cooperative action, which needs to define what are measurable, reportable and verifiable and nationally appropriate commitments for the developed countries and mitigation actions for the developing countries; actions on adaptation and mitigation; and mobilize finance and technology to support such actions in a measurable, reportable and verifiable manner.

Under the Kyoto Protocol, there is also need to define steps on new emission targets (for Annex I parties) by 2009. On technology transfer, much more attention and renewed momentum is needed to scale up the technology. On reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation, more methodological work is needed. Bali launched the Adaptation Fund, and set up its Board.

Yvo de Boer said that to face up to achieve the goal, there is need for delicate balance of engaging major emitters and developing countries and their poverty eradication efforts; there is need for taking strong investment opportunities, not subsidy; and for tying the developed and developing countries together (in their roles).

On the first meeting of the Ad hoc working group on long term cooperative action, he said that there is a need to develop a detailed agenda for negotiations; to define what is the meaning of "reportable, measurable and verifiable"; to determine the work and the order of the work; and the roles of the UN agencies, business, etc.

Yvo de Boer added that mechanisms need to be set up to support developing countries to go the extra green mile, in finance and technology. They must know what is in the tool box before committing to action. Finance and technology are areas for positive debate, they can also connect the developed and developing countries.

He said that we need a plan to reshape the world economy. A comprehensive financial architecture is needed, including mechanisms inside the Convention, as well as mechanisms established by the Convention rules but that operate outside.

Inputs are needed in the process, said de Boer. The UNFCCC is to play the catalytic role but other actors should be invited to say what should be in the building blocks and what rules are needed. The UN should contribute, for example, by building the financial architecture needed, to integrate climate concerns into sustainable development, to integrate climate change into the work of various agencies and to mainstream climate change into development plans. +