Summary of proceedings of the High-level Event on Climate Change

Welcoming what he called a “gratifying shift” in the climate change dialogue, the President of Kiribati today urged the international community to ponder ways to further contribute to that positive development, as the General Assembly held a high-level event to provide impetus towards reaching a universal and ambitious agreement in Paris in December.

“For too long, we have spoken of climate change as the most significant change of our time, but what have we really done about it?”, Anote Tong asked the Ministers, senior Government officials, civil society representatives and other stakeholders in attendance.  For Kiribati and other low-lying atoll countries like Tuvalu, Marshall Islands and Tokelau, the critical and pressing climate change challenges must be addressed before they could even begin to talk of sustainable development.

Sam Kutesa (Uganda), Assembly President, said the well-being of the planet must go hand in hand with development efforts.  While science unequivocally pointed to human activity as the primary cause of global warming, it also underlined that there was still a chance for this generation to reverse the current trends and preserve the planet through bold, collective action.  “Simply put, it is not too late.  But, we must act now.  And we must act with courage,” he declared.

While the issues to be resolved ahead of the twenty-first Conference of Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) were both challenging and at times controversial, a successful outcome was possible with constructive engagement and flexibility of all parties, he said.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that, in many ways, “the stars are aligned as never before”, with the world’s two biggest greenhouse-gas emitters announcing ambitious actions and the number of national climate laws and policies nearly doubling since 2009.  China, the European Union and the United States had “placed their bets” on low-carbon, climate-resilient growth, and the price of renewable energy sources was falling dramatically, with the world using more renewable electric power each year.

The private sector, he said, was integrating climate risk into decision-making, revamping energy systems and calling for a price on carbon, while civil society was demanding action, demonstrating that the world was “hungry” for and capable of taking serious steps to meet the climate challenge.  The pace of UNFCCC discussions, however, was far too slow.

“If we fail, we will condemn our children and grandchildren to a future of climate chaos,” Mr. Ban said.  “If we succeed, we can set the world on course for greater stability, better health and stronger economies for all.”

Mogens Lykketoft, Speaker of the Parliament of Denmark and President-elect of the General Assembly for the seventieth session, said the Paris conference was the first real test of translating the world’s collective commitment to sustainable development into action.

“We should take action now,” said Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, President of the twentieth session of the Conference of Parties (COP20) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and Minister of Peru.  “We have already run most of the marathon,” he said, emphasizing that, now, it was imperative to “put all the pieces together”.

Laurent Fabius, Minister for Foreign Affairs of France and President of COP21, said climate change and humanity’s contribution could no longer be contested.  The threat was global in nature, which required global action.

Xiuhtezcatl Roske Martinez, a 15-year-old civil society representative, said it would take truly united action to save the planet for his generation and those unborn.  “Seeing my world collapsing around me pushed me to action,” he said, urging people to see climate change as a clear and present danger.

Also speaking this morning were Cardinal Peter K.A. Turkson, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace of the Holy See; Christiana Figueres, UNFCC Executive Secretary; and Vuk Jeremić, President of the Centre for International Relations and Sustainable Development.

Panel I
The first panel discussion, on “Mobilizing political momentum for ambitious actions on mitigation, adaptation and means of implementation”, comprised two segments, the first of which was moderated by Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), who said people around the world were listening for signs of hope and action from the deliberations.

Ahmed Djoghlaf, co-chair of the Ad-hoc Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action, also speaking for his colleague, Daniel Reifsnyder, said a new and ambitious strategy to win the climate war depended on the collective will and action of the international community.  “The clock is ticking and time is of essence,” he said, calling for productive use of the weeks before the Paris conference.

The panellists for the first segment were Izabella Monica Vieira Teixeira, Minister of Environment of Brazil; Dr. Khaled Fahmy, Minister for Environment of Egypt and President of the African Ministers Conference on Environment; Thoriq Ibrahim, Minister for Environment and Energy of Maldives; Xie Zhenhua, Special Representative on Climate Change of China; and Miguel Arias Canete, Commissioner of the European Union in charge of Energy and Climate Change.

Ms. Teixeira stressed the need for fair, inclusive and equitable agreement to enable movement towards a new paradigm for development based on a low-emissions framework.  Differentiation was a crucial element where each party could offer a fair contribution towards sustainable development.

Dr. Fahmy said Africans going to Paris were not looking for a rewriting of the UNFCCC, but its operationalization in such areas as adaptation, mitigation, transfer of technology and resources.  Adaptation was an essential priority for Africa, the cost of which could hit $100 billion a year by 2050, he said, calling for a global partnership on renewable energy development.

Mr. Ibrahim, stressing the vulnerabilities of small island developing States like Maldives, said the first step towards building political momentum was to scale up action now, not some time in the future.  All countries must fulfil their commitments and establish clear benchmarks for financing, while exploring new opportunities to support action in critical sectors.

Mr. Xie urged all parties to strengthen their participation based on commitments to achieving green low-carbon development, thereby bringing about a win-win situation.  China had integrated green development into its national strategy and would make determined efforts to undertake its international responsibilities based on national realties and capabilities.

Mr. Canete said the immediate priority was to demonstrate a global resolve to ensure that Paris would be a turning point in addressing climate change.  Although the process may seem slow, demonstration of strong political will would help achieve results.  The European Union believed the agreement, to be successful, should be dynamic and oriented towards the longer term.

Making statements after the panel discussion were the Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Marshall Islands (on behalf of the Pacific Small Island Developing States); the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Iceland; the Minister for State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the United Kingdom; and the Minister for Environment, Spatial Planning and Energy of Portugal.

The Panel’s second segment was moderated by Felipe Calderón, former President of Mexico and Chair of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate.  The panellists were Edna Molewa, Minister for Environment of South Africa; Gabriel Vallejo, Minister for Environment and Sustainable Development of Colombia; Professor Ephraim Kamuntu, Minister for Water and Environment of Uganda; Isabella Lovin, Minister in charge of International Development Cooperation of Sweden; and Trigg Talley, United States Deputy Special Envoy for Climate Change.

Opening the discussion, Mr. Calderón said the next 15 years were a make-or-break period, adding that, new opportunities, if identified and implemented properly, could make the difference.

Ms. Molewa said no group was more interested in a rules-based regime than African countries.  South Africa had embarked on an ambitious renewal energy programme, drawing investment from the private sector.  Adaptation and mitigation efforts had begun to show results in anti-poverty efforts.  South Africa was committed to achieving a fair and equitable agreement that assured adequate financing.

Mr. Vallejo said Colombia was finalizing its national commitment document, which would reflect its commitments and actions, and was awaiting signals from Paris on legally binding international goals.  Such alignment of national and international action was the best guarantor of success, provided they were pursued in a transparent manner with regular follow-up.

Mr. Kamuntu said that, unless the international community took action now, climate change would continue pose a challenge for countless generations to come.  Uganda had witnessed recurring landslides, retreating glaciers and droughts, prompting the Government to design and implement policies and programmes to make a greener and healthier country through the involvement of all stakeholders.

Ms. Lovin said none of the sustainable development goals would be achieved in a world ravaged by climate change.  Therefore, the global discourse needed to rise above its narrow confines and proceed on recognition of that common reality.  Money spent on polluting technologies of the past needed to be channeled towards renewable energy.

Mr. Talley said the United States had set ambitious and workable targets on reducing emissions and urged all states to submit their national commitment documents well before the Paris Conference.  Adaptation, like mitigation, was a crucial element of the effort, which the Paris Conference needed to stress.

Making statements after the second segment of the morning panel discussion were the Minister for Environment of Luxembourg; the Minister for Forests, Environment and Natural Resources of Gabon; the Minister for Sustainable Development, the Environment and Climate Change of Malta; the Minister for Infrastructure and Environment of the Netherlands; the Minister for Environment and Tourism of Namibia; the Minister and Government Plenipotentiary for Climate Policy of Poland; the Minister for Environment of Latvia; and the Minister for Environment and Drainage of Barbados.

Opening the afternoon session ahead of the second panel, Robert Redford, actor and environmental campaigner, said:  “Your mission is as simple as it is daunting — to save the world before it is too late.”  He said ignorance was no longer an excuse for inaction.  Two degrees was all it took to turn arable land into a desert and the window of opportunity was shrinking, he said, underlining that the time for “climate denial” was over.  When leaders meet in Paris in December, the citizens of the world will be watching.  “Look, this is it,” he said.  “This is our only planet.  This may be our last chance.”

Panel II
The second panel discussion, on “Mobilizing stakeholders for ambitious actions on mitigation, adaptation and means of implementation”, was moderated by Rachel Kyte, Vice-President of the World Bank Group.  The panelists were Laurence Tubiana, France’s Special Representative for COP21; Jean Pierre Clamadieu, Chief Executive Officer of Solvay; Hela Cheikhrouhou, Executive Director of the Green Climate Fund; Monique Barbut, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification; Adnan Amin, Executive Director of IRENA; and Naoko Ishii, Chief Executive Officer of the Global Environment Facility.

Ms. Tubiana said that with a view to the $100 billion goal, national contributions would need to be increased over time along a clear pathway and with hopes of sending a clear message for a framework on how to fund greener, cleaner economies.  The transition to a carbon-free and resilient economy was not only necessary, but also beneficial.  Negotiations had attached insufficient attention to innovative technologies, she said, emphasizing that research and development investments were essential.

From a private-sector standpoint, Mr. Clamadieu said the business community had mobilized efforts to combat climate change, including holding a recent conference on how to deal with the challenges.  The community was also ready to participate with Governments towards common goals.  As a chemist, he said, his laboratories were developing technologies such as insulation, lighter and better performing automotive parts to reduce emissions.

Ms. Cheikhrouhou said her country, Tunisia, and other African States were facing climate crises, including water shortages, where action was needed.  The Green Climate Fund was a key institution for the climate finance architecture and its resource mobilization efforts were ongoing, with 130 developing countries having reached out for support.  An increasing percentage of annual investments in developing countries should be focused on climate change issues.

Ms. Barbut said the Paris agreement should put the world on a path to green growth, which was absolutely essential given the increasing population.  Restoring land for farming would ensure the world’s ability to feed its people.  Discussions were now being held to support a fund to finance the rehabilitation of 12 million hectares annually of deteriorating land.  It would also help to strengthen the resiliency of vulnerable communities, she said, appealing for funding support.

Mr. Amin said renewable energy was the way to reduce emissions, noting that the total investments were rising and costs were dropping — solar energy by about 75 per cent and wind generation by 30 per cent.  Solar power was cheaper than gas in the Middle East region, he said, noting that Egypt had been investing in wind energy.  As the prices fell around the world, more and more countries were choosing renewable energy sources.  Among the constraints to renewable energy were high costs for financing projects and the accompanying unrealistically high risk factors.

Ms. Ishii said the Global Environment Facility supported several projects, including three aimed at promoting green urban planning, which sought to mitigate 100 million tons of carbon dioxide, reduce illegal reforestation and achieving food security in 12 countries in sub-Saharan Africa.  Innovative financing efforts were also being made to help small power producers and to address challenges in agro-forestry.  Resilience was essential in current and future projects.  She hoped Member States would help to unlock that funding on the road to Paris.

Participating in the interactive dialogue, including at the ministerial level, were representatives of Suriname, Kenya, Azerbaijan, Panama, Chile, Mexico, Sierra Leone, India, Japan, Angola, Spain, Germany (on behalf of the G7), Rwanda (on behalf of the African Group), Trinidad and Tobago (on behalf of the Caribbean Community), Maldives (on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States), Guatemala (on behalf of the Independent Association of Latin America and the Caribbean), Australia, Lebanon, New Zealand and Hungary.  A representative of the African Union also participated, as did a representative of Action Aid in Bangladesh.

The General Assembly High-level Event will continue at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 30 June.

High Level Event on Climate Change New York, 29 June 2015 Concept Note

1. Climate change is one of the major global challenges of the 21 st Century, and is one of the key priorities during the 69 Session of the General Assembly, having in mind that 2015 will be a critical year for the ongoing process under the auspices of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The adverse impacts of climate change are affecting all countries, especially developing countries, including persistent drought and extreme weather events, rising sea levels, coastal erosion and ocean acidification, further threatening food security, water, energy and health, and more broadly efforts to eradicate poverty and achieve sustainable development.

2. According to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change (IPCC), warming of the climate system is unequivocal. Human influence on climate system is clear and recent anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) are the highest in history. Continued GHG emissions will cause further warming and will increase the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.

3. Combating climate change would require substantial and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions GHG, which, together with adaptation, can limit climate change risk. Indeed adaptation and mitigation actions are complementary for reducing and managing the risks of climate change. These strategies shall be underpinned by common enabling factors, including effective institutions and governance, provision of adequate finance, innovation and investments in environmentally sound technologies and infrastructure.

4. It is crucial for all countries to undertake mitigation and adaptation actions. In the case of developing countries, their efforts at mitigation, adaptation and building resilience would require international financial and technological support including in technology development and transfer and capacity building. Also it is critical to continue mobilizing
financing from a variety of sources, public and private, bilateral and multilateral, including innovative sources of finance. In this regard, we commend efforts that allowed the Green Climate Fund to exceeding its initial capitalization target of 10 billion USD. Further, the scale of climate challenge requires that we forge a credible and effective pathway to mobilize the 100 billion USD annually by 2020 to support the efforts of developing countries.

5. As agreed in the Rio+ 20 Outcome document “The Future We Want” the global nature of climate change calls for the widest possible cooperation by all countries and their participation in an effective and appropriate international response, with a view to accelerating the reduction of global greenhouse gas emissions. In accordance with the UNFCCC, parties should protect the climate system for the benefit of present and future generations of humankind on the basis of equity and in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities.

6. There is an urgent need to close the gap between the aggregate effect of mitigation pledges by parties in terms of global annual emissions of greenhouse gases by 2020 and aggregate emission pathways consistent with having a likely chance of limiting the increase in global average temperature to less than 2° C, or 1.5° C above pre-industrial levels.

7. Strong engagement and political will by all is crucial for reaching a global agreement in 2015 under the auspices of the UNFCCC and for sustaining action thereafter. At the twentieth Conference of the Parties (COP20) in Lima, Parties came to an agreement on «the Lima Call for Climate Action », that paves the way for a new, ambitious and universally binding climate agreement to be adopted at COP21 in Paris. At Lima, Parties were also invited to communicate their “intended nationally determined contributions,” INDCs, well in advance of COP21 (by the first quarter of 2015 by those Parties ready to do so). Parties were also invited to consider including adaptation component in their submissions. They are also expected to intensify the work in order to make available a negotiating text for a Protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention before May 2015, to be the basis for negotiations towards Paris.

8. The Climate Summit held on 23 September 2014 provided a global platform for Member States and relevant stakeholders to make concrete announcements and commitments to combat climate change, enhance resilience and mobilize finance. The High Level Event will contribute to this political momentum for an ambitious climate agreement, by keeping the issue high on our agenda at the mid-point between COP20 in Lima, Peru and COP21 in Paris, France.

9. The main objective of the high-level event is to highlight the importance of keeping focus on the issue of climate change and to provide impetus and momentum towards reaching a universal and ambitious agreement on climate change in Paris, in December 2015, while reaffirming that the UNFCCC is the appropriate framework for all negotiations related to climate change.

It aims also to provide space for showcasing climate action, through concrete initiatives and multi-stakeholder approaches to address climate change. Some of the key issues to be discussed include:
I) What kind of policies and measures can be undertaken by Member States and other stakeholders to implement and scale up mitigation and adaptation actions, in order to meet the objective of limiting the increase in global average temperature below 2° C, or 1.5° C above pre-industrial levels?

II) Given the critical importance of resilience to addressing climate change impact and risk, what type of strategies and actions can be adopted at all levels to make sure that resilience is incorporated and mainstreamed in international and national planning and budgeting processes, as well as inform investment and development cooperation strategies and decisions?

III) What actions can be taken to create enabling frameworks and incentives at all levels to encourage increased State, private sector, cities and regions engagement in climate action? And more broadly, how can we create an enabling environment to accelerate and scale up climate action by all, towards low carbon and resilient pathways?

IV) Following the initial capitalization of the Green Climate Fund, what is needed to sustain the momentum on mobilizing and scaling up finance from all sources, towards meeting the commitment to mobilize 100 billion USD?

V) What kind of technology transfer and capacity building support are needed and effective at enabling ambitious climate actions by developing countries, especially the most vulnerable?

VI) What is the best approach to exchanging experiences, good practices, initiatives and success stories in addressing climate change?

Date and Venue
10. The High Level event on climate change will be a one-day meeting to be scheduled on 29 June 2015, in New York. Format.

Outcome Participation
11. The High Level event will consist of an opening session, high-level interactive Panels discussion as well as a closing session. The outcome will be a President’s summary, which will be circulated to all Member States and other stakeholders.

12. Member States will be invited to participate at Ministerial level. Participation of the private sector, civil society, academia and other relevant stakeholders, at the highest level possible, will be encouraged. This event will be also open to the participation of the representatives of the UN Agencies, the UNFCCC Secretariat and its relevant bodies.