2019 is a critical year, the “last chance” for the international community to take effective action on climate change, General Assembly President Maria Espinosa said on Thursday, during a briefing to announce the UN’s roadmap to the Climate Summit in September.
Ms. Espinosa was speaking alongside the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General on the Climate Summit, Ambassador Luis Alfonso de Alba of Mexico, at UN Headquarters in New York.
Ms. Espinosa said that, with the deadline for achieving the first targets of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development fast approaching, described by Secretary-General António Guterres as “the UN’s blueprint for peace, justice and prosperity on a healthy planet”, the world stood at a crossroads.
Two-thirds of these targets, she said, depend on climate and environment goals, and a five-fold increase in commitments from their current levels is needed in order to meet the targets set at the landmark 2015 Paris Agreement on dealing with greenhouse gas emissions mitigation, adaptation and finance, due to come into force in 2020.
The General Assembly President walked the representatives of Member States through some of the key events of 2019, leading up to, and following, the Climate Summit. All of the events, she said, share two goals: a doubling of commitments and ambition at a national level, and ensuring the inclusion of diverse groups in the process of climate action.
March will see the General Assembly High-Level Meeting on Climate and Sustainable Development for All, which is intended to build on the success of COP24, the 2018 climate conference in Katowice, Poland, which led to the establishment of a “rulebook” for the reporting of emissions and the progress made in cutting them, every year from 2024.
The March meeting will welcome representatives of the private sector, civil society and young people, and look to harness the enthusiasm of the latter group, who, said Ms. Espinosa, will be most affected by a warming world.
On the 30th of June, in the build up to the Climate Summit, a “stocktaking” event will take place in Abu Dhabi, followed by a High Level Political Forum under the auspices of the Economic and Social Council in July, which will see a review of the progress made in achieving Sustainable Development Goal 13 (“urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts”).
The Climate Summit will be followed by the first-ever High Level Political Forum on Climate Action, sponsored by the General Assembly on September 24. The year will be rounded off by the 2019 Climate Conference COP25, which will take place in Chile.
Multilateralism, said Ms. Espinosa, is the only effective to combat climate change, which is one of the main challenges facing the world and can only be overcome with constructive input from all. She concluded with a proverb: “’If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you wish to go far, go together.’ Let’s travel this road together.”
Ambassador de Alba, following Ms. Espinosa, confirmed that the world is falling well behind targets for combating climate change, with only around a third of the necessary work currently completed. He reminded delegates that there are only between 10 and 12 years left to achieve the goals, and called for a ramping up of ambition.
The Special Envoy added that, despite the challenges, an optimistic signal must be given: that it is possible to counter climate change, enjoy economic growth and eradicate poverty. “We can also meet social needs, healthcare needs and human rights needs,” he said, and bring about a “win-win situation to answer the doubters.”
2019 needs to see action, continued Ambassador de Alba, including partnerships with the private sector and civil society, and a huge mobilization of resources ( a target of 1 trillion dollars per year to support developing countries has been set), to invest “in our future, for jobs in a green future.”
“Business as usual” could lead to catastrophic global sea-level rise
As hurricane season bears down on many people and communities this month, one of the key factors linked to increasing severity of a storm’s impacts—sea level rise—sees new predictions emerge for “worst-case scenarios”.
Mathematicians and scientists calculate likely and possible outcomes based on probabilities, with computers able to crunch ever larger volumes of data to come up with more accurate predictions.
Climate modelling has improved enormously in the past 20 years, and where predictions of catastrophe are distinct—as opposed to remote—we should take note.
In Ice sheet contributions to future sea-level rise from structured expert judgment, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America in May 2019, scientists conclude that if global temperatures reach 5°C above pre-industrial era levels, there is a one in 20 chance that global mean sea level rise could exceed two metres.
A 5°C temperature rise is consistent with unchecked emissions growth.
“This is more than twice the upper value put forward by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in the Fifth Assessment Report ,” notes the study.
Such a rise over the next 80 years could trigger the gradual displacement of millions of people around the world and swallow up an area of land three times the size of Texas.
Much of the land losses would be in important food-growing areas such as the Nile delta. Coastal communities, ports and low-lying countries like Bangladesh would be hard hit. Large numbers of small islands would disappear. Major global cities, including London, New York and Shanghai would end up, at least partially, underwater.
Under a “business as usual” scenario where temperatures rise by 5°C, the picture is even grimmer beyond 2100, with a projected increase by 7.5 metres.
A New Climate for Peace: Taking Action on Climate and Fragility Risks, commissioned by members of the G7 group of nations, outlines seven “climate-fragility” risks that pose serious threats to global stability in the next decades.
One of the risks identified is rising sea levels: “Rising sea levels are threats to the economic and physical viability of low-lying areas, as land and coastal resources are gradually lost. This can lead to social disruption, displacement and migration, as well as disagreements over maritime boundaries and ocean resources.”
UN Secretary-General António Guterres recently warned: “The loss of ice in Greenland and Antarctica is accelerating, meaning that sea levels will rise a full metre by 2100 if nothing is done to avoid it.”
Through its Joint Unit with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, UNEP at the request of governments, seconds disaster assessment experts to areas affected by climate-related emergencies. This was the case in 2017, after Hurricane Maria struck Dominica and Puerto Rico, as well as in April 2019 after cyclones Idai and Kenneth hit Mozambique.
In collaboration with United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS), and with funding from the Global Environment Facility, UNEP supported the Government of Tanzania to build extensive seawalls along the country’s coast, including over 2,400m of defence structures. The project, which was completed in June 2018, was part of a broader UNEP initiative to build climate resilience by improving natural ecosystems.
UNEP also works with partners to highlight scientific issues of emerging concern, for example, in its annual Frontiers Report.
The climate crisis is gaining the attention of the world’s media and politicians. Several countries have declared climate emergencies, and climate emergency declarations have reportedly been made in several hundred jurisdictions and local governments covering over 100 million citizens.
Nineteen countries and 32 cities have joined the Carbon Neutrality Coalition, committing to take concrete and ambitious action to achieve the aims of the Paris Climate Agreement. This means they aim to be carbon neutral by 2050. The world’s largest container shipping company as well as dozens of big-name fashion brands have made similar commitments.
“With around 40 per cent of the world’s population living within 100 km of a coast, we need to do everything possible to make this scenario less likely and prevent us from reaching tipping points beyond which it will not be possible to prevent runaway climate change,” Hagelberg adds.
Over 6 million people currently live in coastal areas vulnerable to sea level rise today. Even in a 2°C global heating scenario, 10 million more would be affected, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
“Ocean science plays a crucial role in achieving sustainable development and UN-Oceans remains committed to playing its part in enhancing science to achieve this objective,” said Miguel de Serpa Soares, Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs and United Nations Legal Counsel, and UN-Oceans Focal Point, in a statement on 13 June 2019 in New York.
Mitigating climate change in Asia-Pacific could give region an economic boost
The urgent need to move towards a low carbon economy and build resilience, would not only mitigate the worst impacts of climate change in the Asia-Pacific, but also lift the region economically, according to the body overseeing the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
As Asia-Pacific Climate Week (APCW 2019) wrapped up on Friday in Bangkok, a key takeaway was that long-term holistic planning would enable countries there to tap into the huge potential of renewable energy, and new technology while maximizing socio-economic benefits.
Other compelling reasons to rapidly shift to low-carbon and resilience were outlined by high-level speakers who warned that current levels of ambition to tackle climate change are putting the world on a path towards global warming of more than 3 degrees Celsius – that is double the goal of 1.5 degrees.
Participants agreed that in addition to governments, the transformation must be driven by sub-national regions and cities, the private sector and finance.
Noting that over half the global population of 1.8 billion young people live in the vast Asia-Pacific region, UNFCCC said that youth groups played an important role in the week, by engaging with participants and coving discussions on social media.
Key outcome messages will provide “important input to the Climate Action Summit convened by the UN Secretary-General on 23 September in New York”, UNFCCC said in a press release, adding that “the results will also help build momentum” towards the UN Climate Change Conference (COP25) that will take place in Santiago, Chile, 2-13 December 2019.
On the table
Countries are currently designing enhanced national climate action plans under the Paris Agreement (Nationally Determined Contributions, or NDCs) and the Summit in New York will be an opportunity for governments and many climate action players to announce new plans and initiatives before the NDCs are communicated to the UN in 2020.
Climate change adaptation planning and finance were also key throughout APCW 2019, with a focus on communities and ecosystems most in need.
On building resilience to climate change, indigenous peoples from the region, academics and others, stressed the need for a mindset shift in the fight against climate change, proposing policies to help transform societies for long-term resilience.
Carbon pricing, capacity-building and regional climate finance were also discussed, with a spotlight on highly vulnerable nations.
During the week, work began on a new climate strategy for Indian Ocean Island States to access finance for priority projects.
And the UN Climate Change Secretariat is assisting 10 sub-regions involving 77 countries in Asia Pacific, Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean in preparing strategies to access scaled up climate finance.
Organized every year in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as the Asia-Pacific, Regional Climate Weeks allow governments and other concerned parties to address the full spectrum of climate issues under one umbrella. The central aim is to bring together the public and private sectors around the common goal of addressing climate change.
APCW 2019 was organized by UNCCC in partnership with the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and other international and regional organizations. It is the third Regional Climate Week to this year, following one in Accra, Ghana in March and in Salvador, Brazil in August.
Next year, the United Arab Emirates will host a Regional Climate Week for the Middle East and North Africa region.
Ghana Heralds New Era for Plastic Pollution Action in Africa
Ghana will become the first country in Africa to sign up to the World Economic Forum’s Global Plastic Action Partnership (GPAP) in a bid to address the nation’s mounting plastic waste and pollution challenge.
As one of the world’s fastest growing economies, Ghana is regarded as a regional leader in entrepreneurship and innovation. This rapid expansion of economic activity has brought with it a mounting plastic waste and pollution challenge.
GPAP will fast-track progress on these fronts by working with Ghana’s public, private and civil society sectors to steer the transition towards a circular economy in which plastics are manufactured, used and re-used sustainably. It will also support and develop locally led initiatives by creating a platform to facilitate knowledge sharing, connect like-minded actors and scale up best practices to the national, regional and global level.
“Our partnership with the Global Plastics Action Partnership will bring together new and existing efforts to spark off innovation and achieve progress at a tremendous scale,” said Professor Kwabena Frimpong-Boateng, Ghana’s Minister of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation. “Our success will propel Ghana to emerge as a regional leader on the issue of plastic pollution reduction and inspire other nations to act through sharing our knowledge and lessons. Ultimately, we hope that this will mark the beginning of a new era of action on plastic waste and pollution across the African continent.”
“Under the leadership of President Akufo-Addo and Minister Frimpong-Boateng, Ghana is sending a clear signal that it is prepared to play a leading role in tackling the scourge of plastic waste and pollution not just at the national level but also across Africa. The Global Plastic Action Partnership is proud to assist the country in this role by facilitating public-private collaboration, assisting in scaling up solutions and sharing best practices from around the world,” said Kristin Hughes, Director of the Global Plastic Action Partnership at the World Economic Forum.
About plastic pollution in Ghana
Ghana stands at the junction of unparalleled growth and potential. On track to achieve the fastest economic growth among all nations in 2019, it has also shown remarkable leadership in championing new efforts to boost sustainability across its businesses, rejuvenate its natural environment, and promote the wellbeing and livelihoods of its people. At the same time, insufficient infrastructure to manage and reduce waste has led to unsustainable levels of pollution and leakage, putting the wellbeing of both Ghana’s people and biodiversity at risk. Urgent and collective action is needed to address this challenge.
Ghanaians have reacted energetically to this challenge. The government has implemented a National Plastics Management Policy to address the unsustainable adoption of single-use plastic. It has also signalled a willingness to pioneer new approaches to plastic material design, recycling and waste management infrastructure, and the integration of sustainable business practices throughout value chains. A number of circular economy and waste management initiatives have also been established at the local level. The United Nations Development Programme will act as a key partner and adviser and is expected to launch an initiative designed to empower waste resource recovery efforts. GPAP’s role will be to provide a platform allowing those involved in these diverse initiatives to collaborate, share best practices and scale up solutions.
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