Don't expect too much from leaders at climate summit, experts warn

by Megan Rowling | @meganrowling | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 19 September 2014 13:49 GMT

A flood-affected woman looks on as she sits inside a makeshift tent along a road in Srinagar, India, Sept. 18, 2014. REUTERS/Danish Ismail

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World leaders attending UN summit on Tuesday are unlikely to offer new action on climate change that is ambitious enough

BARCELONA, Sept 19 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - World leaders attending a U.N. summit on Tuesday are unlikely to offer new action on climate change that is ambitious enough to keep global temperature rise to safe levels - but opinion is divided on whether that matters.

The one-day event in New York, called by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, is intended to mobilise political will for a global climate deal due to be agreed in Paris in December 2015, and to launch initiatives bringing together businesses and other groups to reduce planet-warming emissions and strengthen climate resilience.

But development charity Oxfam warned on Friday that the 125 leaders scheduled to speak "are expected to bring little to the table".

"Voluntary action by the private sector will not be enough on its own. We need strong political leadership and ambitious government regulations to catalyse the global action that both the science and a growing number of people around the world demand," said Oxfam's Executive Director Winnie Byanyima. "World leaders are behaving as if we have time to play with, but they are ultimately playing with people's lives."

Governments have promised to try to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, but experts say current commitments to curb greenhouse gas emissions put the world on track for a temperature rise of between 3 and 4 degrees.

Oxfam said on Friday that weather-related disasters cost the world almost half a trillion dollars in the five years since world leaders met in Copenhagen in 2009 and failed to agree a binding climate deal. More than 650 million people were affected by those disasters, which cost more than 112,000 lives, it added.

Aid agency CARE pointed to extreme weather events in recent weeks, including devastating floods and landslides in India, Nepal, Pakistan and the Balkans, drought in Ethiopia, Somalia and Sri Lanka, and storms that hit Vietnam and the Philippines. The charity vowed on Friday it "will not rest" until the vulnerable people it works with in those countries "have a clear signal from leaders that the world is serious about winning the war on climate change".

"The U.N. summit must be a historic turning point, and leaders meeting in New York have a unique opportunity to reverse the trend of growing climate disruption," said Robert Glasser, CARE's secretary general.


CARE's climate change advocacy coordinator, Sven Harmeling, said the meeting in New York was a key chance for states to display greater political will and commitment to the U.N. climate negotiations over the coming year.

Bringing businesses, green groups and others together in new alliances should create an environment that encourages people to put more pressure on governments to act, he added.

Governments have set a deadline of March 2015 to outline what they are prepared to offer for a new climate deal, including how far they will curb their emissions. That deadline is one reason many countries are unlikely to reveal the extent of planned cuts in New York next week.

Zou Ji, deputy director of the NCSC, a think tank that works with the Chinese government on climate policy, told journalists the U.N. summit was a "political event", and Beijing will not specify targets for the climate deal - being negotiated separately from the summit - until the first half of next year.

The Chinese premier will not attend the U.N. climate summit, nor will the Indian prime minister, dimming hopes for the event.

Xie Zhenhua, China's top climate change official, on Friday stopped short of signalling new commitments to fighting climate change ahead of the summit, saying China would explain "some positive actions" it will take after 2020, Reuters reported. And U.S. President Barack Obama will highlight strides the United States has already made on climate change when he addresses the New York meeting, according to administration officials.


Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, Peru's environment minister and president of the next annual U.N. climate talks in Lima in December, noted in a call with reporters that Ban Ki-moon's summit will not have a formal outcome.

But "in a non-formal way, we hope the summit can really create or catalyse (climate) action," he said. Peru, for example, is planning to sign a preliminary agreement under which Norway will provide some $300 million to help the Latin American nation access carbon finance to keep its forests intact, he added.

Tony de Brum, minister of foreign affairs of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, a low-lying Pacific island nation threatened by extreme weather and rising seas, described the New York summit as "the most important diplomatic moment on the road to Paris". The conference in France will be leaders' "last chance" to seal a new binding agreement to tackle climate change and "save my country", he said.

He urged leaders to say next week they are prepared to take stronger action than before to reduce their countries' emissions and will bring climate finance to the table to help vulnerable states build resilience and adapt to climate shifts.

(Reporting by Megan Rowling; editing by Laurie Goering; Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, corruption and climate change. Visit

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