Wednesday, September 24, 2014

President Obama and Highlights from the U.N. Climate Summit

Some promising signs emerged from the UN Climate Summit on Tuesday. This year the summit has more urgency as those assembled are asked to work towards a global climate agreement by 2015. This summit may very well be making progress towards that ambitious and elusive goal. If nothing else the level of engagement bodes well. In Copenhagen there were only 95 leaders at the New York Summit on September 23, there were 125.

Leaders reviewed their country's efforts and made promises for the future. There was a rousing speech from President Obama alongside real action, and a new forest initiative. Even the oil and gas industry made pledges to reduce emissions.

President Obama

President Obama urged world leaders to focus on climate change as the "one issue that will define the contour of this century more than any other." Obama called for action as he explained how his nation is already seeing the impacts of climate change which includes droughts, and wildfires.

"The climate is changing faster than our efforts to address it," Obama said.

The president did more than talk, to circumvent Republican intransigence, the President signed an executive order that is aimed at reducing carbon emissions fighting climate change. It requires federal agencies to incorporate "climate resilience" into its action plans abroad. It also calls on private entities in the U.S. to help poorer nations address their emissions issues because, Obama said, "nobody can stand on the sidelines," developed and developing countries alike.

New Forests Initiative

Led by Norway and Indonesia, a broad coalition of 150 partners including governments, industry and individuals endorsed a new initiative called the New York Declaration on Forests, which pledges to stop deforestation.

"We share the vision of slowing, halting, and reversing global forest loss while simultaneously enhancing food security for all," the declaration reads.

"Reducing emissions from deforestation and increasing forest restoration will be extremely important in limiting global warming to 2°C. Forests represent one of the largest, most cost-effective climate solutions available today. Action to conserve, sustainably manage and restore forests can contribute to economic growth, poverty alleviation, rule of law, food security, climate resilience and biodiversity conservation. It can help secure respect for the rights of forest dependent indigenous peoples, while promoting their participation and that of local communities in decision-making," it says.

The initiative seeks to halve the rate of loss of natural forests globally by 2020 and striving to end natural forest loss by 2030. It also aims to restore 150 million hectares of "degraded landscapes and forestlands" by 2020 and increase the rate of global restoration thereafter, which would restore at least an additional 200 million hectares by 2030.

Oil and Gas Pledge Emissions Reductions

Alongside reviews of action at the state and local level there were more details about new public-private partnerships to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Some oil and gas companies pledged emissions reduction. Mexico, Nigeria, Norway, The Russian Federation and the United States have all signed on to a scheme to reduce methane emissions known as the Oil & Gas Methane Partnership. The CEO of Statoil, even offered his support for an international carbon price. "A carbon price gives industry clear incentives to find technologies to bring down emissions," he said. "Business cannot succeed on a planet that fails. We need an international carbon price."

Defining Success

Success at this summit is not about speeches or even promises, it is about action. The key measure of success for this summit is its ability to put the world on a path towards a more sustainable future. Specifically, if this summit can prepare the way for a global climate agreement in 2015, it is a success, if it does not, it fails.

The unprecedented level of engagement gives us reason to believe that we are moving in the right direction.

© 2014, Richard Matthews. All rights reserved.

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