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United Nations Climate Change Summit: A Promising Start - September 28, 2014

Last week, on Tuesday, September 23rd, the United Nations had a one-day meeting about global climate change, held at the United Nations building, in New York City. It was well attended by a plethora of international politicians; Barack Obama, Vice Premier of China, Zhang Gaoli, and over 100 heads of state and their respective staffs met to discuss climate change, along with other notable individuals such as former US Vice-president Al Gore, Leonardo DiCaprio and Chinese actress Li Bingbing. The meeting was called for by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and was the largest climate summit since the 2009 Copenhagen talks, and is a precursor to the 2015 UN talks in Paris. While the day was filled with many different seminars, round-table discussions and key note speakers, there are a few key takeaways from the one-day summit.

One of the biggest takeaways is the seemingly continued co-operation between the U.S. and China to cut Carbon Dioxide emissions by 2020. Both president Obama and Vice-Premier Gaoli reiterated their commitment to reduce carbon emissions in each of their respective countries by the agreed upon deadline year of 2020. President Obama appealed to China, saying that together with the U.S. the two countries have the responsibility to lead the fight on reductions of emissions. Vice-Premier Gaoli stated similar goals for China, saying that China wanted to have emissions peak as early as possible, and that as a responsible major country, China will make even greater efforts to address climate change. While these speeches are consistent with what the two countries have agreed upon in the past, they are merely a forerunner to much more serious and binding decisions at the 2015 talks in Paris. 

The biggest tangible result of the summit was the New York Declaration on Forests. The declaration is endorsed by dozens of governments including the U.S., United Kingdom, Japan, France, and Germany. It also included some of the world's biggest companies such as Walmart, Kelloggs, McDonalds, Johnson and Johnson, Proctor and Gamble, and many other of the world¹s biggest multinational companies, and more than 50 influential civil society and indigenous organizations.

The declaration provides a global time line to halve the rate of natural forest loss by deforestation by 2020, and strive to end it by 2030. It also calls for restoring global forests and croplands, which total area when completed would be larger than India. Meeting these goals could reduce carbon emissions by between 4.5 and 8.8 billion tons every year. While this is a landmark commitment, it is largely an aspirational goal and sign of good faith as there is no real consequences for breaking or failing to achieve the goals set by the declaration. Even though the declaration is not binding, it shows that companies are willing to listen to their consumers who do not want to continue supporting deforestation and are finally agreeing to address the problem head on. 

One of the reasons Secretary General Ki-Moon called the one-day summit was to try to generate some cooperation and competition amongst global leaders; to make international politicians commit to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions and pledge money and aide to poor countries to adopt clean energy and become climate adapted. Heencouraged developed countries to donate money to the Green Climate Fund (GCF), a internationally managed fund that helps support projects, programs, policies and other activities in developing UN countries.

The GCF was created five years ago during the 2009 Copenhagen talks. The premise behind the fund was that rich and developed countries agreed to collect money and create a fund to be made available to less developed or poor countries to invest in clean energy and mitigate their risks of damage from climate change. The fund was created to appease less developed or poor countries who felt like rich and developed countries contributed much more heavily to climate change due to the burning of fossil fuels, therefore they are responsible for the resulting risks posed to poor or less developed countries as well as themselves.

Thus far the GCF has raised approximately $55 million dollars in donations for start up and operational costs for the organization. United Nations Green Climate Fund Executive Director Hela Cheikhrouhou is seeking to raise a total of around $100 billion for the fund by 2020. She is hoping to raise approximately $15 billion by the end of the year, to help start funding projects now. During the climate summit on Tuesday, French President Francois Hollande pledged $1 billion dollars from his country to the GCF. Germany has also donated $1 billion dollars, and South Korea has committed $100 million dollars as well as significant donations from Denmark, Norway, Mexico, Luxembourg, and Indonesia. While countries are finally starting to pledge significant money to the GCF, some observers think that unless more money is committed by the 2015 Paris talks, there could be significant hurdles to coming up with a new worldwide climate strategy.

Ultimately the one-day summit in New York was only just a warm up for the 2015 Paris talks. While there were many encouraging signs that we are on the right path towards a sustainable and healthy future, there are still significant steps that need to be taken before we can create a global action plan for climate change.

 

Harrison Jackson is the Coastal Stewards Coordinator for the Maryland Coastal Bays Program.



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