UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon declared it had “delivered.” Climate champion and ex-US vice president Al Gore said it gave a “tremendous boost” to momentum for action. The World Resources Institute described it as a massive leap forward. Former Mozambican politician and widow of Nelson Mandela, Graça Machel, called for a return to the drawing board on climate action, because the scale of the challenge was “still much more than we have achieved.”
Depending on whose opinion you sought on the outcome of yesterday’s UN Climate Summit in New York – a gathering of 120 world leaders (minus Australia’s PM, of course) and the first such meeting on climate change in five years –reports told of varying degrees of success, and failure.
The following is a round up of some of the outcomes of the talks, as well as some of what was said and by whom.
According to the WRI, on a international front, a wide range of countries, private sector representatives, and civil society groups voiced support for a clear, long-term goal to shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy, potentially by phasing out greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by mid-century.
“Many countries reaffirmed their commitment to make their post-2020 emissions-reduction offers by the first quarter of 2015, a critical milestone in securing a global climate agreement by the end of 2015,” said the WRI report.
Key global leaders including US President Barack Obama and China’s Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli signaled clear intent to take ambitious action to shift to a low-carbon growth path.
Developing countries including Colombia, the Philippines, and Vietnam also stated their readiness to act, regardless of what other countries were doing, due to the impacts their countries were already experiencing.
The New York Declaration on Forests was delivered, offering up “the clearest statement to date by world leaders that forests can be a major force in tackling the climate challenge,” according to the WRI. “Among the highlights, the Declaration proposes cutting the rate of natural forest loss in half by 2020 and eliminating it altogether by 2030.”
As reported regularly on RenewEconomy, there is much going on in the financial world on the subject of low-carbon investment and fossil fuel divestment. In New York yesterday, the financial world did not disappoint, with organisations like the Global Divest-Invest coalition underscoring the need to shift from activities driving climate change to those that can help solve it.
According to the WRI report, governments made major commitments to the Green Climate Fund – which is expected to become the main vehicle for securing and disbursing climate finance – with Germany and France both pledging $1 billion. Leading developing countries like South Korea and Mexico pledged too. While countries like Australia and the US are yet to commit.
Other announcements of note came from an Investor Statement on Green Bonds and Climate Bonds, committing to grow a global market in the financing of climate change solutions, delivered alongside a statement from a group of 13 development banks, investors and issuers committed themselves to further developing the Green Bonds.
The statement said the signatories understood and accepted their responsibility to address threats to the future performance of their investments from climate change, as well as a responsibility to secure their clients’ savings through sustainable and responsible investments.
“Climate change is real,” said Erik Jan van Bergen, CIO, ACTIAM (formerly SNS AM), adding that “gigantic investments were needed” to adapt accordingly.
“These amounts are investments yielding a return, they are not costs. To provide the necessary capital, we need to activate the world’s large debt capital markets. Green bonds and climate bonds are a means to do so.
“We stand ready to invest. ACTIAM intends to further increase its climate bond holdings of €500 million, subject to market conditions and client demand, to €1 billion by the end of 2015,” van Bergen said.
Also announced, was the launch of the MSCI Global Low Carbon Leaders Indexes, consisting of companies with significantly lower carbon exposure than the broad market.
The indexes were developed at the request of and with critical insights from Fourth Swedish National Pension Fund AP4, Fonds de Réserve pour les Retraites (FRR) and Amundi, who were looking for representative benchmarks in the transition to a low carbon economy. MSCI then consulted on the proposed methodology with a variety of investors globally.
They will be the first in the industry to address two dimensions of carbon exposure – carbon emissions and fossil fuel reserves – providing clients with an effective tool for limiting the exposure of their portfolios to carbon risk.
While selecting companies with a lower carbon exposure, the indexes aim to maintain a wide and consistent market exposure by minimizing the tracking error compared to the performance of the parent standard indexes.
Four global alliances launched or advanced initiatives to scale up sustainable transport solutions, according to the WRI report. “For the first time, these initiatives span the public transport, rail, aviation, and maritime industries, joining them to build a strong case for climate action.”
WRI says two of these alliances stood out by involving the private sector from the rail and the public transport sector; including the International Union of Railways (UIC), which launched the Low-Carbon Sustainable Rail Transport Challenge to increase rail use for freight transport, meet efficiency targets, and reduce emissions by 75 per cent by 2050.
According to the WRI report, the New York Climate Summit has made it “clear that climate is back on the global agenda,” with “announcements of important new partnerships, financial pledges and commitments by leaders set the foundation for greater ambition for climate action at all levels of society.”
But, as mentioned above, not everyone was as glass half full about the meeting’s success.
“There is a huge mismatch between the magnitude of the challenge and the response we heard here today,” Graça Machel told the closing moments of the summit, as reported in The Guardian. “The scale is much more than we have achieved.”
“Can we genuinely say we are going to preserve their lives, and ensure their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren inherit a planet which is safe and sustainable?” she asked.
Machel appealed to world leaders and business executives who descended on the UN on Tuesday to “go back to the drawing board”. She concluded: “The obligation in my view is to step up the ambition.”
According to the report, Machel spoke only moments after the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, declared: “We have delivered.”
Other quotes of note…
“What will come out of Paris is a new economy,” said French President François Hollande on the sidelines of the summit. “We can’t just limit ourselves to words, expressions of regret and exercises in stock-taking.”
“We welcome new pledges of money from France and others, but they fall well short of what’s needed. With poor communities around the world already losing their homes and income due to climate change, all rich countries must pledge to the Green Climate Fund and set a clear timeline of when the money will be available.” – Campaign group ActionAid
“As prime minister I pledged to lead the greenest government ever and I believe we have kept that promise.” – UK Prime Minister David Cameron
“As a responsible major developing country, China will make an even greater effort to address climate change and take on international responsibilities that are commensurate with our national conditions.” – Zhang Gaoli, the vice-premier of China
“We have a responsibility to lead. That’s what big nations have to do. …We cannot condemn our children and their children to a future that is beyond their capacity to repair — not when we have the means, the technological innovation and the scientific imagination to begin the work of repairing it right now,” he said. “I believe in the words of Dr. King that there is such a thing as being too late.” – US President Barack Obama