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Hold governments, businesses to climate promises - activists

by Megan Rowling | @meganrowling | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 16 September 2014 15:01 GMT

Members of environmental associations hold signs as they gather to demand improvements in climate change and energy models, outside the European Commission in Brussels on January 22, 2014. REUTERS/Yves Herman

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Real action, not "green-washing" or public relations speeches, needed at UN climate summit, experts say at TRF debate

BARCELONA, Sept 16 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - World leaders, businesses and others due to announce fresh efforts to tackle climate change at a U.N. climate summit in New York next week must be held to their promises, panelists told an online debate hosted by the Thomson Reuters Foundation this week.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has organised the summit to boost political will and ambition for a new global climate pact expected to be agreed in Paris late next year. The New York gathering on Sept. 23 will be attended by 125 heads of state and government, or their deputies.

Ban Ki-moon's special envoy for climate change, former Irish President Mary Robinson, said she was sure leaders would cite "good examples" of what they are doing to address climate change. "But we must also assess the overall commitment" to curbing climate change and helping countries adapt, she wrote in the Monday debate, and not allow "easy PR (public relations)!"

Robinson said the summit would make clear the gap between current pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and what needs to be done to limit global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius, as governments have promised to do. They are due unveil national commitments toward the new climate agreement by the end of March 2015.

Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam International, said she expected that "announcements from governments and (the) private sector will fall short of meeting the needs of hungry people and averting loss of lives" from climate extremes.

She urged people to watch out for "PR and green-washing", adding that aid group Oxfam will carefully assess the commitments made in New York by governments and businesses. "They must be robust, new and additional" to previous commitments, Byanyima added.


Bill McKibben, founder of the international climate campaign, which is organising major public demonstrations on Sept. 21 to push for climate action, said governments "will not do anything on the scale required, because they're not feeling the pressure".

"That's why for me the more important event will be the march...which will be the biggest climate demonstration in the planet's history," he predicted. Worldwide, some 1,500 marches are planned in 138 countries this weekend.

All the panelists said they would join the demonstration in New York, and Ban Ki-moon is planning to meet the marchers, Robinson added.

"We need to build a movement large enough to pressure this system, and we need to do it before Paris," McKibben wrote.

Byanyima said her organisation will target the food industry, pressing for greener supply chains, and lobby for the right to food in a changing climate to be enshrined in national laws. "We will also start targeting fossil fuel use in developed countries," she wrote.


The debate participants agreed that a shift away from the use of dirty fossil fuels and towards clean, renewable energy should be a major focus of the growing global movement for climate action. That could be done by cutting the half a trillion dollars in subsidies for fossil fuels each year and pushing public institutions like universities to move their investments away from companies that pollute the atmosphere, they said.

But Robinson, who runs her own climate justice foundation, cautioned that the world's poorest countries would need financial support to move their economies onto a lower-carbon path and to help those who might suffer most from subsidy cuts and carbon taxes.

Both Robinson and Byanyima called for governments to step forward at the summit with pledges for the U.N.'s fledgling Green Climate Fund, which has been set up to help vulnerable nations pursue green growth and protect their people from worsening extreme weather and rising seas.

Only Germany has made a large commitment, of up to $1 billion, to the fund so far, but Norway and France are also expected to announce contributions, perhaps as early as next week. The fund will hold its first formal pledging conference in November.

"At a minimum, we need the $10 billion capitalisation of the Green Climate Fund, and as many commitments to that as possible at the (New York) summit," Robinson said.

Quamrul Chowdhury, a Bangladeshi climate negotiator who represents the least developed countries (LDCs) at U.N. climate talks, and Saleemul Huq, director of the Bangladesh-based International Centre for Climate Change and Development, argued that the summit needed to produce action rather than more discussion.

"If we fail to help the most vulnerable, then (those events) will have failed," wrote Huq, a climate adaptation expert and one of 38 civil society representatives selected to attend the summit.

(Reporting by Megan Rowling,; Editing by Laurie Goering,

Want to read more from the debate? Check out the full version here, or a storify summary here.

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