|UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon opens Climate Summit 2014. Photo credit: UN Photo / Cia Pak.
By Anders Lorenzen
Just days after New York City witnessed the world’s largest climate march, in which an estimated 400,000 people marched through the streets demanding climate action, the world’s two largest emitters: US and China, appeared to up their ambition.
At the Ban Ki-moon organised climate summit in New York, world leaders met to discuss urgent action on climate change.
Earlier, Hollywood superstar Leonardo Dicaprio, had in his new UN role as Messenger of Peace, addressed the audience saying it was time to act:
“As an actor I play fictitious characters often solving fictitious problems, and I believe that mankind have looked at climate change in that same way as if it were fiction, as if pretending climate change was not real that it will somehow make it go away. But I think we all know better than that now. Every week we see new and undeniable climate events, evidence that accelerated climate change is here right now, droughts are intensifying, oceans are acidifying, methane plumes rising up from the ocean floor. We’re seeing extreme weather events and the Westanatarctic and the Greenland ice sheet melting at unprecedented rates decades ahead of scientific projections.”
Former US Vice President Al Gore entered the stage by enforcing optimism about the solutions and market mechanisms at hand, stating that in 79 countries electricity produced by solar power is now cheaper than electricity from fossil fuels.
US President Barack Obama said that in the years since the Copenhagen climate summit (Cop 15) in 2009 our understanding of climate science has deepened, but also that the horrors of climate change have moved closer to us and that no nation is immune to the threats climate change brings, stating: “In America, the past decade has been our hottest on record. Along our eastern coast, the city of Miami now floods at high tide. In our west, wildfire season now stretches most of the year. In our heartland, farms have been parched by the worst drought in generations, and drenched by the wettest spring in our history. A hurricane left parts of this great city dark and underwater. And some nations already live with far worse. Worldwide, this summer was the hottest ever recorded — with global carbon emissions still on the rise.’’
Obama went onto say that the work has begun and the US have begun rapid investments in clean energy. He also said the US’ pledge to reduce emissions by 17% by 2020 from 2005 levels are on track to be met. He revealed that he is directing federal agencies to begin factoring climate resilience into international development programs and investments, and said that the US and China as the world’s two largest emitters has a responsibility to lead in addressing climate change.
It was China’s Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli who represented China at the summit. He told the audience that in the last two years China had made progress in curbing their CO2 emissions. He said that ensuring that CO2 emissions peak as soon as possible was an absolutely priority and they would look to bring this about as soon as possible, but did not share any specifics for when that could be achieved, but said China would release post 2020 actions on climate change as soon as they can markedly reduce carbon intensity, increase the share of non fossil fuels and increase the forest stock.
Despite the lack of a clear timetable, the statement was met by support from Greenpeace. Senior Climate and Energy Policy Officer Li Shuo said: “Five years after Copenhagen, China is in a vastly different position. Domestic air pollution is forcing the country to embark on a new path away from coal and 2014 saw the lowest coal consumption growth in a decade. After the surging carbon emissions over the past decade, we welcome the Vice Premier’s pledge to peak emissions as early as possible, and call on China to peak its greenhouse gas emission much before 2025.’’
UK Prime Minister David Cameron repeated previous pledges but did not bring anything new to the summit, but insisted that he has kept his pledge: promising that he would lead the greenest UK government ever, stating: “The UK has cut greenhouse gas emissions by one quarter, we have created the world’s first Climate Change Act, and as Prime Minister, I pledged that the government I lead would be the greenest government ever. And I believe we’ve kept that promise.”
Moving forward he said that he would be pushing European Union (EU) leaders to commit to reduce emissions with 40% by 2030. But environmental campaigners might be concerned that he referred to shale gas as low carbon and vital in dealing with climate change. In the UK both Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth have intensively campaigned against the UK governments rush to establish a shale gas industry.
Sub edited by Charlotte Paton