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The special climate summit called by UN Secretary General Ban ki Moon on September 23 has turned global attention on climate talks, though two key players, China and India, will not be represented by their top leaders

Over 2000 people came out on the streets in New Delhi to press for stronger action on climate change this Saturday, just days ahead of UN Climate Summit. (Image by People's Climate March)

Over 2000 people came out on the streets in New Delhi to press for stronger action on climate change this Saturday, just days before the UN Climate Summit. (Image by People’s Climate March)

Global attention turns to the United Nations headquarters on September 23 as over 120 heads of state and government gather to give a push to stalled climate negotiations. The heads of the Indian and Chinese governments will be conspicuous by their absence. Observers of climate negotiations are hoping that industrialised countries will commit enough funding and help with technology transfer to reduce the differences on the table when the formal climate negotiations resume this December.

The UN Secretary General has convened this special summit with two goals. A few days before the summit, Ban ki Moon spelled them out: “To mobilize political will for a universal and meaningful climate agreement next year in Paris; and second to generate ambitious steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and strengthen resilience.”

Neither will happen without reducing the differences between rich and poor nations. Industrialised countries – led by the US – are pressing hard for all countries to spell out what they will do to mitigate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Developing countries – sometimes led by China and India, and nowadays more often by India alone – are equally clear that rich nations must take the lead in mitigation and must help poor nations with money and technology.

Tuesday’s summit is a major effort to push governments so that they reduce these differences. The UN Secretary General is being helped in this push by what is being billed as the “largest climate march in history” by a coalition of NGOs. The main march is scheduled in New York on Sunday, and will be joined by Ban ki Moon. Supporting marches are planned in 150 cities across the globe, including New Delhi.

The summit is also being backed by a large number of business leaders, who are expected to announce ambitious plans to tackle climate change at their levels – at an event to be held on the same day and at the same UN headquarters. Ban ki Moon said, “We are anticipating an impressive turnout of leaders from Government, business, finance and civil society. Most important, we are expecting significant commitments and progress.”

Asked about the absence of India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and China’s President Xi Jinping, Ban said, “I understand [the] Indian Prime Minister is coming. Even though he will not be able to participate in climate summit meeting, per se, I really wanted to have him participate in climate change summit meeting. He is going to address the General Assembly. I understand it’s [27 September] or so. I do not remember exact date. But he is coming. China is represented by Deputy Prime Minister Li Keqiang (sic). He is number three in terms of hierarchy. He is a very senior person. I met President Xi Jinping last month. And also, I met Prime Minister Li Keqiang in Beijing in — I think it was in July. So, I had already met China’s leadership, top leadership. The big regret, of course, they were not able to participate this time. But, Chinese is very much accommodated…”

China is now the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, with US second and India third. However, per capita emission of India is one-tenth of that in the US, and of China one-third. Greenhouse gases – mainly carbon dioxide – are warming the earth’s atmosphere and changing the climate, which in turn is affecting farm output worldwide, making droughts, floods and storms more frequent and more severe, and raising the sea level. A large percentage of the carbon dioxide emitted is due to thermal power generation.

The UN Secretary General said, “This is going to be one of the largest, biggest gatherings of world leaders particularly when it comes to climate change. The largest gathering which I remember was in Copenhagen. At that time we regarded it was the largest, but at that time less than 100 leaders came. I’m now talking about the Prime Minister and above… One hundred, more than 120 leaders are coming… Of course, you know, leaders are coming from first day and until the end of the general debate.  But, we are counting altogether 140.  And so it’s extremely difficult to have at one day at one time at one place 120 heads of state and government. That means there is a very strong commitment on the part of leaders on climate change and other crises, which we are now experiencing.”

Asked to spell out his expectations from the summit, the Ban said, “First of all, in cutting emissions, I expect that governments and the wide range of actors in key sectors of the global economy from energy, cities, industry and transport and forestry and agriculture, there should be a firm commitment that we should reduce greenhouse gas emissions so that we will be able to contain the global temperature rise within two degrees centigrade. And we will also try to mobilize financial support including for the capitalization of Green Climate Fund, the GCF.

“I expect that many countries’ leaders will announce that their bold and ambitious target with some financial support. We have already confirmed the financial support, but I’m also in the process of speaking and urging world leaders to come with a strong support on this financial support and technology support. And there is an issue of a pricing carbon and through action by national governments, local governments and companies and investors. And there is a heightened awareness, even on the private companies, that there should be some pricing on carbon. But, this is up to the member states, which they will have to discuss.”

Ban said that while Tuesday’s summit would be not be part of climate negotiations, “whatever agreement or understanding will be made here, will be reflected in the UNFCCC [United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change] negotiation process. And we really need everybody’s… this is, again, unprecedented and the biggest one, governments, initially.  And we have a huge number of business communities and civil society. And there are a lot of side events through which they can recommit their commitment to address this climate change.”

As for the commitments, many contributors from developed and some developing countries have indicated that they will be making financial pledges to the Green Climate Fund (GCF), either on Tuesday by November, when the first formal pledging conference is scheduled.

These indications came at a meeting held early September to mobilise resources for the GCF. But no target was set on the scale or size of the funds for the GCF’s initial capitalisation – another indication of the continuing gulf between developed and developing countries.

GCF board members from developing countries are worried lest these pledges are conditioned on: (i) whether decision-making procedures in the GCF Board (in the event of a lack of consensus) will be by voting linked to contributions, and (ii) if the World Bank will continue as the interim trustee till 2018.

Another issue of controversy at the meeting was whether the earmarking of funds or targeting of contributions by funders to specific areas of preference should be prohibited or be limited.

While countries continue to bicker, 340 global institutional investors representing over $24 trillion in assets have called on government leaders to provide stable, reliable and economically meaningful carbon pricing that helps redirect investment commensurate with the scale of the climate change challenge, as well as develop plans to phase out subsidies for fossil fuels.

“Gaps, weaknesses and delays in climate change and clean energy policies will increase the risks to our investments as a result of the physical impacts of climate change, and will increase the likelihood that more radical policy measures will be required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” said a joint statement by the investors. “Stronger political leadership and more ambitious policies are needed in order for us to scale up our investments.”

The statement came from four investor groups – Ceres’ Investor Network on Climate Risk (INCR) in the US, the European Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change (IIGCC), the Investors Group on Climate Change (IGCC) in Australia and New Zealand, and the Asia Investor Group on Climate Change (AIGCC) – with the United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative (UNEP FI) and Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI).

According to the International Energy Agency, the world must invest at least an additional $1 trillion per year into clean energy by 2050 if average temperature rise across the globe is to be held within two degrees Celsius, thus avoiding the worst impacts of climate change on the environment, health and global economy. Yet global investment in clean energy was just $254 billion in 2013.

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UNEP, said, “The perception prevails that we need to choose between economic wellbeing and climate stability. The truth is that we need both. What is needed is an unprecedented re-channelling of investment from today´s economy into the low-carbon economy of tomorrow. Investors are owners of large segments of the global economy as well as custodians of citizens’ savings around the world. Having such a critical mass of them demand a transition to the low-carbon and green economy is exactly the signal governments need in order to move to ambitious action quickly.”

The welcome effect of quick global action has been shown by the Montreal Protocol, which aimed to phase out chemicals that deplete the earth’s protective ozone layer. A new assessment by 300 scientists shows that the layer is well on track to recovery in the next few decades.

However, the scientists caution that the rapid increase in certain substitutes of these depleting chemicals has the potential to undermine these gains. There are ways to avoid the harmful climate effects of these substitutes.

Steiner said, “The challenges that we face are still huge. The success of the Montreal Protocol should encourage further action not only on the protection and recovery of the ozone layer but also on climate. On September 23, the UN Secretary General will host Heads of State in New York in an effort to catalyse global action on climate. The Montreal Protocol community, with its tangible achievements, is in a position to provide strong evidence that global cooperation and concerted action are the key ingredients to secure the protection of our global commons.”

Not everyone is happy about the strong corporate presence at the informal climate summit. Social movements such as La Via Campesina, OilWatch International, Migrants Rights International, Global Forest Coalition, the Indigenous Environmental Network, Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, ATTAC France and more than 330 organizations claiming to represent more than 200 million members around the world have denounced what they call “the corporate takeover of the upcoming Ban ki-Moon Climate Summit.” They have called for “systemic change rather than the voluntary pledges and market-based and destructive public-private partnership initiatives that currently feature on the summit’s agenda, like REDD+ Climate-Smart Agriculture and the Sustainable Energy for All initiative.”

The NGOs have demanded “immediate binding commitments to keep the temperature rise to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius.” They have warned against what they call the “false solutions and harmful actions” that some corporations are pushing for.

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