By Senashia Ekanayake
Hundred thousands of people have taken to the streets and 122 Heads of States or representatives have spoken on behalf of their countries, but two days after the end of a “landmark” Climate Summit organised by the United Nations Secretary General, what have we learnt?
In South Asia, the Heads of State of Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bangladesh were present and Government representatives spoke on behalf of Maldives and India. They reiterated the need for climate finance in order not only to combat climate change but also to meet other development priorities hindered by climate change such as the eradication of poverty.
“The effects of climate change have no boundaries. It does not differentiate between small or big, rich or poor. The assumption that some countries are safe from climate change because of their geography or their economic power, is a dangerous myth,” said Maldivian Foreign Affairs Minister Dunya Maumoon.
The Climate Summit was preceded by an explosive climate march held in New York with approximately 400,000 individuals and with parallel marches that took place over the weekend world over and in South Asia, in India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka. However, despite the momentum built around the marches leading to the Summit, the question still remains as to whether the consolidated events were significant enough to put climate change back in the political agenda.
Curbing Resources in South Asia
The commitments put forth by South Asia resonated with those made by most of the developing world.
Prime Minister of Nepal Sushil Koirala spoke of the vulnerable state the country is in due to adverse impacts of climate change on the Himalayas and the difficulty in meeting agricultural demands due to heavy dependency on rain. During the Summit, the country committed to 40% uninterrupted forest cover, promotion of Clean Development Mechanisms, reduction of fossil fuels and low carbon development measures.
Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina commented on the country’s efforts in raising $385 million towards climate change adaptation. She went on to say that the country required support for technology transfer towards the development of adaptive technology and as a country, Bangladesh has developed climate-tolerant plant varieties that they intend on sharing with countries of similar landscape and climate change impacts.
The Government representative from India spoke of the budgetary allocations made by the Indian government towards improving energy efficiency and also mentioned the country’s efforts in doubling dependency on wind and solar energy by 2020, imposing a coal tax and the declaration towards 100 smart cities.
The Need for Resources
Speaking at the opening plenary of the Summit was the Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Rajendra Pachauri who noted that through the fifth Assessment Report one thing has been clearly defined, which is that the world has “means to limit climate change and build a better future.”
“Our time to take action is running out. If we want a chance to limit the global rise in temperature to 2 degrees Celsius, our emissions should peak by 2020. The longer we wait the higher the risk of severe, widespread and irreversible impacts such as food and water shortages, increased poverty, forced migrations that could increase the risk of violent conflict, extreme droughts and flood and the collapse of ice sheets that flood our coastal cities,” he said.
The Climate Summit not only witnessed the presence of Heads or representatives of States but also that of civil society, corporate leaders, religious leaders and health sector stakeholders present to voice out their respective asks towards keeping global temperature increase to less than two degrees Celsius. The eight focal points of discussion for the Summit included agriculture, cities, energy, financing, forests, industry, resilience and transportation.
The Summit also saw financial commitments made towards the Green Climate Fund and towards its target of raising $100 billion by 2020. The Fund is within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to assist developing countries in adaptation and mitigation mechanisms in order to combat climate change.
A few of the notable financial commitments included $1 billion from France, $100 million from Korea, $70 million from Denmark, $33 million from Norway, $100 million from Switzerland (tentative), $10 million from Mexico, $6.8 million from Luxembourg and Columbia, Monaco and Finland stating their intent to pledge financially.
Attending the Summit was Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa who said, “Developed countries must implement their commitments to the developing, by providing financial support, technology development and transfer and capacity building. All Parties to the Convention must expedite domestic preparations for Intended Nationally Determined Contributions.”
The Voice of Civil Society
“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,” said Climate Action Network South Asia Director Sanjay Vashist, a coalition of 116 civil society organisations in the region working on climate change.
Stressing on the need to focus on vulnerable and Least Developed Countries struggling to combat climate change and also meet development priorities, Action Aid Bangladesh Country Director Farah Kabir stated that it was time for “big polluters” to commit to change and resources.
“Countries like Bangladesh and other Least Developed Countries, are at the receiving end of these 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. Kabir is also a Member of the Board of Directors in Climate Action Network South Asia.
One thing is for certain; combatting climate change is an effort that needs to be by both the developed and developing world. While the former is capable of making financial pledges given the climate change adaptation and mitigation measures that are already in place, developing countries which rightfully uphold their right to development being responsible for historical emissions, too have a role of committing towards the protection of their natural resources and offsetting fossil fuel dependency. The world has adequate resources that can be shared towards a greener, cleaner and sustainable future.
[Photo Credit: UN Website]
Senashia Ekanayake is a writer, an advocate of Arts, Education and climate change activist. She read for her degree in English, dabbled in the corporate world and is now involved with CANSA Communications.