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Stressing Need for Rapid Action at World Climate Conference, Secretary-General Says Anti-Science, Economic Scaremongering Could Lead to Widespread Disaster
3 September 2009
Following is UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s speech to the Third World Climate Conference in Geneva today, 3 September:
The Copenhagen climate change meeting is less than three months away. Indeed it is closer than that. We have only 15 negotiating days left before we meet in Copenhagen. Fifteen days to resolve some of the most complex issues. Fifteen days to find common cause. Fifteen days to seal a deal. A deal that is ambitious, comprehensive and fair. A deal based on sound science. A deal that will underpin sound policy.I have just been in the Arctic. I witnessed the sober reality of change with my own eyes. I would like to express my deep gratitude first of all to the Government of Norway for making this fact-finding mission possible and for their strong leadership on climate change.
The Arctic is warming faster than anywhere else on Earth. It may be virtually ice-free by 2030. It has been said that the Arctic is our barometer –- the canary in the coal mine. But it is much more than that. Changes in the Arctic are accelerating global climate change.
Many of the International Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) more distant scenarios are happening now. Instead of reflecting heat, the Arctic is absorbing it as the sea ice diminishes, thus speeding up global warming. Methane, trapped in permafrost and on the sea bed, is escaping into the atmosphere. Methane is a greenhouse gas 20 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. Increased melt from the Greenland ice-cap threatens to raise sea levels and alter the flow of the Gulf Stream that keeps Europe warm.
Our foot is stuck on the accelerator and we are heading towards an abyss. Science must drive our response to climate change. Let us not waste the knowledge our scientists are giving to us. Greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise. Indeed they are accelerating.
We are not just changing the environment. Climate change is altering the geopolitical landscape. We see this in the new scramble for Arctic resources as the North-west and North-east passages open up. We see it in increased migration from the drylands that are home to 2 billion people. And we see it in rising sea levels.
By the end of this century, sea levels may rise between half a metre and 2 metres. Sixty million people live within 1 metre of sea level already. By the end of the century, that number will exceed 130 million. People in the great river deltas of Africa and Asia. People on low-lying small islands. Citizens of major coastal cities: Cairo, Karachi, Calcutta. Belem, New Orleans, Shanghai, Tokyo, Amsterdam. What will they do when storm surges push the sea inland? Where will they go?
What will the people of South Asia, South-east Asia and China do when water supplies from the Himalayas dry up? These countries are home to nearly half the world’s population. What will African farmers do when the rains fail or floods wash away their crops?
Adaptation deserves as much attention as mitigation in the climate negotiations.
Scientists have been accused, for years, of scaremongering. But the real scaremongers are those who say we cannot afford climate action -– that it will hold back economic growth. They are wrong. Climate change could spell widespread economic disaster.
The answer lies in green growth –- sustainable growth. We need a policy that puts a price on carbon. Policy that will send a strong market signal to businesses that are pioneering a low-carbon future. We need a global public investment programme for renewable energy. We need technology transfer for energy efficiency. We need creative solutions to protect forests and other ecosystems that soak up carbon emissions.
The IPCC estimates that investment now to achieve our emissions targets would represent just 2 per cent of annual global gross domestic product (GDP) between now and 2030. Such an investment will bring many other benefits. Less pollution. Better public health. Improved food security. Less risk of mass migration and political instability. More green jobs.
Yet, despite the evidence, despite the science, despite the growing calls from enlightened businesses, we still face inertia. We are seeing only limited progress in the climate negotiations. I repeat, we have 15 negotiating days left until Copenhagen. We cannot afford limited progress. We need rapid progress.
That is why, in two weeks, the United Nations will convene a climate change summit in New York. I appreciate that national leaders have pressing domestic agendas. But these challenging times require national leaders to act as global leaders. They should look beyond their national boundaries.
I am therefore heartened to see the many leaders who have chosen to be here today and I thank all these distinguished Heads of State and Government for their commitment. In New York, I expect candid and constructive discussions. I expect serious bridge building. I expect strong outcomes. Political support for climate change is growing. But still not fast enough. Science tells us that current commitments fall far short of what is needed.
We need to act in five key areas. First, we need to adapt to the inevitable impacts of climate change. In particular, we must assist the poorest and most vulnerable, especially the least developed countries and many small island developing countries. They need significant fast-track funding for adaptation — now. Second, recognizing the need for consensus on an upper limit for temperature rise, we need ambitious midterm mitigation targets by developed countries.
Third, developing countries need to act to slow the growth of their emissions. Many are working towards this already. But to do more, they need predictable financial and technological support. This is my fourth point. Fifth, all institutional arrangements and governance structures under a new climate regime must address the needs of developing countries.
The list is long. Time is very short. We have unleashed powerful and unpredictable forces whose impact is already very visible. I have seen it for myself in the Arctic.
I visited Antarctica two years ago. I have been visiting all the places around the world where I could experience for myself the negative, very alarming consequences as a result of climate change. I was in Brazil to see the impact of deforestation in the Amazon River rainforest. I was in Chad to see the impact of desertification on Lake Chad. I was in Bangladesh [to see] how we can prevent disasters, if we make some necessary preparations for disaster risk reductions. We need creative ideas, creative commitments.
This Conference is dedicated to giving policymakers the scientific information they need. It is an important job. Climate policy must be based on sound science. But let me say clearly: we know what the problem is. We know what we must do. Now is the time to do it. Now is our moment.
We need a deal in Copenhagen that will enable deep cuts in emissions, that promotes green growth, that will provide the resources and structures needed for adaptation. We will pay a high price if we do not act and if we do not invest now. The cost of inaction today will be far greater than the cost of action tomorrow, not just [for] future generations, but for this generation too.
I have been urging leaders of the world to act now, not only as national leaders but as the leaders of the world, as global leaders. We have to deliver this planet Earth to our succeeding generations so that they can live in a more hospitable world and in an environmentally sustainable way. That is your moral and political and even historical responsibility.
We cannot fail. Let us work together to seal the deal in Copenhagen. I count on your commitment and I count on your strong political leadership.
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