A three-point plan to help people on the climate change frontline

by Robert Glasser | CARE International
Saturday, 20 September 2014 18:06 GMT

A Kashmiri flood victim with her feet covered with mud stands inside her house after floodwaters receded from the area in Srinagar, India, Sept. 20, 2014. REUTERS/Danish Ismail

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Every world leader at the UN summit can and must show they are serious about the urgency of the climate threat

Only days remain before world leaders gather at the U.N. climate summit in New York on Sept. 23. The summit, billed as the most important high-level event on climate change since heads of state met in Copenhagen in 2009, is generating widespread interest – and so it should. Climate change is the critical issue of our time.

The people we work with at CARE in many of the world’s poorest countries need no reminder about the scale and pace of global climate disruption now underway. From the daily reports of our emergency teams around the world, it has become increasingly clear to me that extreme and unpredictable weather events have now become the new norm.

Here’s a snapshot from the last three weeks. Cambodia: Floods and drought. India: Jammu and Kashmir floods. Philippines: Typhoon Luis. Nepal: Floods and landslides. Vietnam: Alert for typhoon Kalmeigi. Somalia: Drought and food insecurity. Philippines: Alert for tropical storm Luis. Ethiopia: Drought and food insecurity. Kenya: Drought alert. Sri Lanka: Drought and food insecurity. Bangladesh: Floods alert.

The list goes on. The scale of destruction – and the individual stories – that lie behind each and every emergency are heart-wrenching.

Unless governments act now, things will only get worse. According to last week’s report from the World Meteorological Organisation, greenhouse gas levels are rising at alarming rates, reaching record levels in 2013. Next month, the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will warn once again that the world is heading towards devastating global warming unless we slam the brakes on global emissions.

The good news is that on Tuesday world leaders will have an unprecedented opportunity to make the right choices for the poorest people on our planet, who are unjustly bearing the brunt of climate change impacts, and for current and future generations.

Although the summit is not aiming to deliver a joint outcome, such as a negotiated treaty, every world leader, particularly from the most powerful nations, can and must show they are serious about the urgency of the climate threat. With this in mind, here is a three-point plan we believe is essential to meet the challenge.

EMISSIONS, IMPACTS AND A NEW TREATY

First, leaders have to agree to dramatically reduce and ultimately phase-out greenhouse gas emissions. That means agreeing to leave fossil fuels in the ground; finding new ways to scale up renewable energy well before 2020, working towards a net carbon-free economy based on renewables; and re-affirming global commitments to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

To date, the world has only warmed by about 0.9 degrees since the Industrial Revolution. With a business-as-usual model, we’re at severe risk of shooting past 4 degrees by the end of this century. That would entail extreme warming with extreme consequences for us all, but particularly for poor communities.

Second, we want to see bold action to tackle current and future climate impacts. Governments must deliver more support to help people adapt to growing climate disruption in Nepal, in Bangladesh, in Cambodia, in Ethiopia, and right across countries and communities on the climate change frontline.

We also want to see all such adaptation measures delivered fairly – ensuring they target the most vulnerable, many of whom are women and girls; that local communities are empowered to lead their own adaptation plans; and that all measures go hand-in-hand with securing gender equality and improved rights for the poorest.

Developed countries have contributed the bulk of the greenhouse gases that are driving climate change, so they must also help to foot the bill. The pledges made by leaders from developed countries must add up to the $15 billion needed by the Green Climate Fund to help pay for adaptation over the coming years as a minimum first step.

Third, world leaders must send a clear signal that they will commit to a new and ambitious climate change treaty next year in Paris to set the world on a sustainable, rather than a reckless, path.

At CARE, we know that we will not eradicate poverty unless we tackle climate change, so we will be listening and watching – as will the hundreds of thousands of concerned citizens who will take to the streets this weekend in Paris, New York, London, New Delhi, and beyond, and the hundreds of millions who are already living in crisis on the climate change frontlines. Let this be a moment of hope and inspiration for us all.

Robert Glasser is CARE International’s Secretary General.