By Vositha Wijenayake
Thousands of people took to the streets in cities and towns around South Asia this weekend to demand action on climate change on the days leading up to the Climate Summit that will take place on September 23, at the United Nations Head Quarters in New York. From the crowded streets in New Delhi and Kathmandu to actions in Colombo and Bangladesh, South Asians joined people in more than 156 countries participating in over 2646 events and rallies for one cause: call for concrete commitments to address climate change.
In addition, at last count, 2,097,372 people around the world signed onto a petition calling for bold action at the UN Climate Summit.
The Climate Summit and the Need for Commitments
The Summit known as the Ban Ki Moon Summit, The Climate Summit, as well as Leaders’ Climate Summit, is organised with a focus on climate change, and its themes on finance, cities, farming and energy. The United Nations (UN) has published a list of 125 countries that will be represented by their Heads of State and government or deputies at the global Climate Summit in New York on September 23. It has been further confirmed that representatives from 162 countries will be attending the Summit.
Half of the Summit’s time is allocated for the Heads of State speeches. Among the Heads of States who have confirmed their attendance, is President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who will be speaking at the 2nd plenary of the Summit, at the Trusteeship Council Chamber. According to a scenario document issued by UN Secretary General’s office, there will simultaneous announcements from around 200 delegates as the Summit, in three separate rooms from 1015-1315 on 23rd of September. Most leaders of the South Asian region, including Prime Minister Koirala of Nepal, as well as the Head of State of Bangladesh are expected to attend, while the Prime Minister of India, N. S Modi has not confirmed his attendance.
Summit at the Deadline for a Climate Agreement
The New York Climate Summit brings together world leaders at a very crucial time. With the deadline for the world to draft a new climate agreement soon approaching, which needs to be aimed at ensuring that we prevent more dangerous climate change, this time is vital for commitments from countries to address the issue of climate change. This meeting is seen as a milestone which could have great potential to build the momentum for governments around the world to come forward with ambitious, concrete, and urgent actions to avert the climate crisis.
Highlighting the importance of a pro poor and vulnerable climate agreement in 2015, Sanjay Vashist, Director of Climate Action Network South Asia said, “In Copenhagen we lacked political will and ambition for a global deal but in order to have positive results in Paris, in 2015, the Climate Summit needs to function as the foundation for an equitable and ambitious climate deal.”
Farah Kabir, Country Director for Action Aid Bangladesh stressed the need to focus on those vulnerable when calling for actions on climate change.
“Countries like Bangladesh, and other Least Developed Countries, are at the receiving end of thee adverse effects of climate change due to the big polluters not committing to change and provide for the poor in the climate vulnerable locations. There are no promises forthcoming for the climate refugees, displaced due to the ignorance to global warming and our concerns ,” She said.
In a statement issued by the civil society organisations in Bangladesh on the Climate Summit, the CSOs called the Prime Minister of Bangladesh to focus on the issue of those displaced due to climate change, and the protection of their rights.
Just Another Talk Shop?
“We don’t want it to be a talk shop, that is what we have told time and time again. From our bilateral discussions, there is a sense of hope,” said Prakash Mathema, Chair of Least Developed Country Group.
He added, “This is an important event for the LDCs. At the Summit, the LDCs need to amplify their message. All media will be there, Heads of States will have the opportunity to interact with media from all over the world. Media will be interested in knowing what their announcements mean. This is of importance to gain attention to the important issues.”
Despite criticism addressed at those leaders who have not yet confirmed their presence, which according to many mark a lack of commitment towards addressing climate change, there are those who still remain optimistic. This is due to the fact that this meeting of world leaders have increased the focus on climate change in the global context and the summit being held in conjunction with the UN General Assembly is a positive sign that political will is being mobilised to confront climate change.
Marching in Solidarity for Climate Justice
Parallel to the Summit, there are also the People’s Climate Marches that are organised around the world, including in South Asia. This weekend unprecedented numbers of citizens took part in a global protest mirrored in cities around the world to call on governments for accelerated climate action, as Heads of States arrive in New York for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s historic Climate Summit.
This international mobilisation demonstrates the growing momentum of the increasingly diverse movement pushing for an economy that works for people and the planet; a world safe from the ravages of climate change with good jobs, clean air, clean water, and healthy communities.
National to Regional, Regional to Global
During the week-end there were marches which had succeeded in mobilising thousands of people in Delhi, and Kathmandu. This is unprecedented in history, and the large numbers rallying around the need to call for action on climate change highlights that awareness on the issue is rising, and that people are accepting climate change to be an issue of critical concern.
“With hundreds of thousands marching all over the worldwide, this is by far the largest mobilisation the world has ever seen to address the issue of climate change. This shows that the days when climate change was ignored as a side issue are over. People are aware, and they calling for their country leaders to act” said Ranga Pallawala, member of CANSA Board and CEO of Janathankshan,Sri Lanka.
“In Sri Lanka there is increased awareness on the issue now, but we need to further focus on collective actions to have concrete plans to address climate change. There are positive steps being taken, and we hope for a strong message which highlights the same at the Summit,” he said.
September 21, Colombo saw a bicycle rally organised by youth organisations, and CSOs highlighting the need for modes of transport that are low carbon emitting, andalso aimed at raising awareness on the issue of climate change.
The global mobilization for the People’s Climate Movement has drawn the support of over 1,574 partner organizations and dozens of celebrities, politicians and notable public figures. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will join the march in New York City, along with diplomats, US Senators, and celebrities including Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Connelly, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Rock, Emma Thompson and more.
Vositha Wijenayake is the Policy and Advocacy Co-ordinator of CANSA and, Regional Facilitator for Asia for the Southern Voices Programme. She is a lawyer by profession and has an LLM from University College London. She specialises in International Environmental Law and Human Rights Law. She has been tracking the UNFCCC negotiations since 2009 with a legal and gender focus.