By Thalif Deen
UN Secretary-General António Guterres has never ceased to warn about the impending hazards of climate change worldwide. “We are on a fast track to climate disaster,” he has predicted rather ominously and pointed out that some of the world’s major cities are under water.
“There are unprecedented heatwaves, terrifying storms and widespread water shortages. And the extinction of a million species of plants and animals.”
“This is not fiction or exaggeration. It is what science tells us will result from our current energy policies,” he said early this year.
“We are on a pathway to global warming of more than double the 1.5°C limit agreed in Paris,” he said last week.
“Some Government and business leaders are saying one thing but doing another. Simply put, they are lying. And the results will be catastrophic. This is a climate emergency,” he warned.
Climate Solidarity Pact
Announcing a “Climate Ambition Summit”, scheduled to take place in September 2023, he is aiming at generating “new, tangible and credible climate action” to “accelerate action at the mid-way point” of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Going forward, he will push for a “Climate Solidarity Pact”, for all big emitters to “make an extra effort” to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in line with the 1.5°C goal and provide support for those who need it.
Describing the proposed meeting of world leaders as “a no-nonsense summit, he said there would be “No exceptions. No compromises.”
“There will be no room for back-sliders, green-washers, blame-shifters or re-packaging of announcements of previous years.”
The reactions from environmentalists were mostly positive.
Kaisa Kosonen, Senior Policy Advisor at Greenpeace International, told IDN governments were reminded this year by the world’s leading scientists that we already have all the solutions needed to halve global emissions by 2030.
“This summit is an opportunity to make that a reality and deliver sustainable development for all.”
“Because no one will escape the consequences of devastating impacts of the climate crisis; some will pay in economic terms, but many millions more are already paying with their homes and their lives.”
She said a “no-nonsense summit” that urges every leader to step up, no greenwashing allowed, is definitely welcome, if it remains loyal to the criteria announced. New commitments made could give an important boost to the Paris Agreement’s first global stocktaking that will close at next year’s COP28
“To solve our interlinked crisis, it’s time to stop doing just a little better and start doing enough. The Climate Ambition Summit can and must inspire the world, with a re-setting of serious climate action and examples of true, transformative leadership,” Kosonen declared.
Asked how different the proposed summit would be in comparison to the COP27 (Conference of Parties) summit in November 2022, UN Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters on December 20: “It’s about ensuring that we keep the political pressure on the Member States. The COPs are very important events, but they’re also very technical events linked to a conference of parties.”
Having something at the General Assembly, he pointed out, “provides an opportunity to increase the political pressure and to ensure that the messages don’t just rise up once a year during COP, and also at a time where the world’s media’s attention is on what is happening in this building”.
Asked if the Secretary‑General expects an agreement or a declaration from the “ambition summit”, Dujarric said: “I think he doesn’t want to see any backsliding. He doesn’t want to see any regurgitating of promises already made, and he also is very focussed on fighting this idea of green‑washing, of empty promises by either governments or the private sector”.
Alex Rafalowicz, Director of Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty, a member of Global Campaign to Demand Climate Justice, told IDN: “We welcome Secretary-General Guterres’ plans for a new Climate Ambition Summit next year and wholeheartedly agree we can no longer “sit on the sidelines” and instead must “find real solutions”.
“To raise “ambition”, we must raise the issue of fossil fuels – coal, oil, and gas. The need for an equitable phase-out of fossil fuels was kept out of the climate COP in Egypt, but it must be on the table if the UNSG’s summit is to succeed,” he argued.
This Summit can differentiate itself from forums past by putting real solutions on the table that tackle the biggest driver of the climate crisis: fossil fuels.
“This means phasing out all fossil fuels in a way that is fast, fair and sufficiently financed. The Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty is an important proposal gaining support from millions, including the WHO, European Parliament and nation-states.”
“Fossil phase-out must be part of the conversation if we are to fast-track a renewable energy revolution while addressing the inequitable demand and consumption of energy in the Global North.”
The impassioned demands in the lead-up to and beyond COP27 underscore the hunger across the world for real community-focused solutions and a rejection of business-as-usual accounting tricks, carbon markets, and greenwashing, declared Rafalowicz.
Concern about smallholder farmers
Frederic Mousseau, Policy Director at the Oakland Institute, an independent policy think tank based in California, told IDN: “The UNSG is right in his role to push world leaders for decisive action to address the climate crisis and biodiversity loss, reject greenwashing and false solutions.”
However, he said, one should be seriously concerned by his statement calling to produce and trade more fossil-fuel-based fertilizers and for more food deliveries to countries in the Global South.
“Hundreds of millions of smallholder farmers reject this disastrous model that entrenches dependency and environmental destruction. Experts from the IPCC have made crystal clear that the world must radically shift the way we produce and trade our food.”
“Calling for more products of industrial agriculture to be shipped to the Global South will further worsen the crisis, whereas we are wasting time to ensure a real transition to a green economy, based on agroecology, diversification, and localized food systems,” Mousseau said.
Credible climate action
Meanwhile, while announcing his decision to convene the summit, Guterres called on every leader to “step up—from governments, business, cities and regions, civil society and finance”.
Nothing less than tangible and credible climate action would do, but dispensing with diplomatic niceties, he said it is clear that the price of entry for every nation was “non-negotiable credible, serious and new climate action and nature-based solutions that will move the needle forward and respond to the urgency of the climate crisis”.
Guterres said the summit would be convened alongside a General Assembly opening-week summit (in mid-September) already in the calendar, designed to accelerate action at the halfway point towards the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).