COPENHAGEN, Denmark, December 15, 2009 (ENS) – Arriving in Copenhagen today for the high-level segment of the United Nations climate change talks, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon exhorted nations to “seal the deal” on an ambitious new agreement to limit the greenhouse gas emissions that are warming the planet, warning that the well-being of all of the world’s people is at stake. World leaders “face a defining moment in history,” he told conference delegates.
More than 130 heads of state and government have confirmed their participation at the last three days of the conference, “clear proof that climate change has risen to the top of the global agenda,” the secretary-general said. But he acknowledged that all leaders coming to Copenhagen face domestic pressures that make it more difficult to reduce emissions.
With the summit set to wrap up on Friday, Ban urged countries to put aside their “maximalist” negotiating positions and “unreasonable” demands. “We do not have another year to negotiate,” he said. “Nature does not negotiate.”
“No one will get everything they want in this negotiation,” he said. “But if we work together and get a deal, everyone will get what they need.”
The climate summit is “as momentous as the negotiations that created our great United Nations from the ashes of war more than 60 years ago,” Ban said at the opening of the high-level segment. “Once again, we are on the cusp of history.”
Talks were suspended Monday by developing nations worried about the future of the Kyoto Protocol, currently the only legally binding treaty on climate change.
Many industrialized countries want to merge the Protocol and the outcome of the Copenhagen summit into a single agreement. But developing countries, the least responsible for greenhouse gas emissions, want to extend the Kyoto Protocol past 2012, when its first commitment period ends.
An agreement that all nations can embrace must be forged in Copenhagen that brings all countries together with the common goal of reining in global temperature rise to within two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and promotes “green growth,” Ban said.
Ban said any deal must incorporate five key elements – more ambitious mid-term emissions reductions targets from industrialized countries; stepped-up efforts by developing nations to curb emissions growth; an adaptation framework; financing and technology support; and transparent and equitable governance.
He also underlined the need for countries to hammer out how to provide medium-term and long-term financing to bolster climate resilience, limit deforestation and further low-emissions technologies.
Small island nations fear that they will be inundated by sea level rise, oil producing nations fear the future of the economy, and major developing nations worry about economic growth and poverty eradication, acknowledged Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in a news conference today.
“The process is not about ramming the interests of a few down the throats of many,” said de Boer. “This process is about many trying to address all interests.”
The Prince of Wales addressed the opening session of the high-level segment tonight, saying that the future of humankind can only be assured if a consensus is forged on how to integrate economic development with a real understanding of the ecological carrying capacity of the planet.
This is the fundamental requirement of any solution to climate change and must be built on a public, private and NGO sector partnership, he said. There is an urgent need to find a way to live as part of, rather then apart from, nature, he said.
Nobel Peace Prize laureate and green advocate Wangari Maathai of Kenya was inducted as a UN Messenger of Peace with a special focus on the environment and climate change.
“Wangari Maathai is a living example of how much difference one person, with passion and dedication, can make in the world,” the secretary-general said at the induction ceremony.
Professor Maathai, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004, founded the grassroots group known as the Green Belt Movement, which has planted more than 40 million trees on community lands across Africa and worked to improve environmental conservation and reduce poverty.
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger encouraged delegates to fight climate change on “subnational” as well as regional, national and international levels.
“Climate change is a global problem that demands global solutions, but while national governments have been fighting over emission targets, subnational governments like California have been adopting their own targets, laws and policies,” said Governor Schwarzenegger. “And the truth is, the world’s national governments cannot make the progress that is needed on global climate change alone, they need the help of cities, states, provinces and regions in enacting real climate solutions.”
On Monday, Governor Schwarzenegger and subnational leaders from Canada, Nigeria, France and Algeria announced an agreement to advance the concept of a new regional coalition to fast track the results of the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference and push their respective national governments into more rapid actions and stronger commitments to fight climate change.
UN agencies and their partner organizations today held Humanitarian Day in Copenhagen in an effort to raise awareness of the humanitarian toll that climate change is already taking on vulnerable people.
“Climate change is not some abstract problem for the future,” said John Holmes, UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs. “It’s a problem which is happening right here and now and happening to ordinary people, particularly the poorest and most vulnerable populations around the world.”
Holmes, who also serves as UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, cited the increasing number and intensity of natural disasters. “We can do something about this. We are not helpless in the face of this,” he stressed, underscoring the importance of disaster risk reduction and early warning systems.
More than three-quarters of those people who died in disasters this year lost their lives to climate-related extreme weather events, which caused nearly $15 billion in damages worldwide, the top United Nations official on disaster risk reduction said Monday.
Data shows that the number of people killed in disasters is falling because countries are better prepared and have better early warning systems, Margareta Wahlström, the secretary-general’s special representative for disaster risk reduction, told reporters in Copenhagen.
“But the cost of disasters are equally, steadily going up very dramatically from the 1980s into this decade, and that increase is continuing year by year,” she stressed.
The United Nations itself is addressing its own carbon footprint.
After what UN officials called “one of the most wide-ranging and painstaking exercises ever undertaken across the United Nations system,” the organization today announced its greenhouse gas footprint as part of a first step to manage these emissions down.
The aggregated greenhouse gas emissions of the UN system organizations for their facility operations, travel, and peacekeeping operations in 2008 are estimated at just over 1.7 million metric tonnes of CO2 equivalents.
When excluding peacekeeping operations, the emissions are about 770,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalents. Air travel is responsible for roughly half of the emissions produced.
The total figure represents an emissions profile equal to 3.3 percent of that produced by New York City, where UN headquarters is located.
The report, coordinated by the UN’s Environmental Management Group, covers emissions arising from the various UN agencies and its headquarters as well as field operations and peacekeeping missions in Africa and beyond.
Achim Steiner, executive director of the UN Environment Programme and chair of the Environmental Management Group, said, “It is incumbent on every country and every organization including the UN, to first measure, and then to measure down, its environmental impact.”