|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Sixty-first General Assembly
Informal Thematic Debate
AM & PM Meetings
GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT CALLS ON ENTIRE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY, ESPECIALLY
RICH NATIONS, TO HELP DISADVANTAGED COUNTRIES COPE WITH CLIMATE CHANGE
‘Equitable, Fair, Ambitious Global Deal’ Needed to Match Scale
Of Challenges Ahead, Assembly Told, as It Concludes Three-Day Debate
Warning that inaction on climate change would only magnify the existing inequalities between developed and developing countries, the President of the General Assembly this evening called on the entire international community, and especially rich nations, to support disadvantaged countries struggling to cope with the myriad social, environmental and economic impacts of global warming.
“The science tells us that industrialized countries are most responsible for the problem, but the consequences of climate change will be felt by the poorest, who are least responsible for it,” said Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa of Bahrain, wrapping up the Assembly’s first-ever plenary session devoted to climate change.
The informal debate, which began Tuesday with two expert panel discussions, aimed to raise awareness and momentum for action, ahead of the Secretary-General’s high-level event in New York this September and the intergovernmental negotiations on a global climate accord in Bali, Indonesia, set for December.
Calling climate change “an issue of economic development, as much as one of global justice and equality”, Sheikha Haya emphasized that business as usual would not only deepen the inequities between rich and poor countries, but between men and women, as well. Developed countries must do more by setting ambitious targets.
Developing countries faced difficult challenges, and managing them effectively required institutional and human capacity-building, she said. Those countries would be able to do more with support from the international community, including the private sector and civil society.
Moreover, urgent action was needed to strengthen the capacity of the least developed countries to address mitigation and adaptation. She also urged the Assembly to remember that, as the majority of the world’s poor, women were more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.
The experts had made it clear that responsible action now would reduce the risks and costs, she said, adding that “decisive action is needed to safeguard our future”. Calling the three-day debate a success and a testament to the importance the international community placed on the climate change issue, she urged Member States to press ahead now with comprehensive steps.
“We now have the momentum. What we do with it is more important. We need to ensure that we agree on an equitable, fair and ambitious global deal to match the scale of the challenges ahead,” she said. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was the appropriate forum from which to move forward, and other initiatives should compliment or reinforce those ongoing negotiations.
“What we need now is a clear political vision for the future,” she said, adding that the opportunity for concrete action was at hand, with the upcoming events. “With strong political leadership, when we meet in Bali in December, a clear and achievable solution to combat climate change will be within our grasp.”
Echoing her views during today’s closing meeting, Government delegations, speaking on behalf of some of the world’s poorest people, said that greenhouse gas emissions from industrialized countries in the North were making natural disasters worse. They warned that wilting crops and rising sea levels could spark “climate refugees” in the hundreds of millions and undo decades of development efforts in the South. Severe droughts and floods fuelled partly by carbon emissions would devastate the livelihoods of peoples in Asia, Africa and the Pacific Islands –- those least responsible for global warming.
The representative of Benin, speaking on behalf of the least developed countries, said that the Climate Change Convention had recognized the least developed countries, including many landlocked and small island developing States, as most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change because of their limited capacity to adapt. The international community had a moral and historical responsibility to help those countries in their mitigation and adaptation efforts.
Before the meeting in Bali, the United Nations must carry out a detailed study of the least developed countries and press for decisive action during the meeting. He recommended that priority be given to the preparation and implementation of national adaptation action plans, and that the countries, because of their lack of capacity, should enjoy increased technical and financial assistance, with additional resources to promote access to clean and affordable energy sources, if possible, through renewable resources.
Highlighting the depth of the climate change challenge for Africa, a speaker from Southern Africa said that more than 70 per cent of the continent’s people were dependent on subsistence agriculture. Agriculture, however, was threatened by frequent droughts and floods. Africa might lose $25 billion in crop failure due to rising temperatures, and another $4 billion from declining rainfall. Thus, the basis of existence for a large number of people was threatened.
The representative of a West African country drew attention to his region’s weather disturbances, which had affected water systems and caused draughts and desertification. They had impacted the groundwater level and the quality of the soil. In the rainy season, floods had destabilized harvesting cycles. The most striking manifestation of climate change could be seen in the completely altered coastline, which affected the entire region and hampered economic development. Parts of the land were below sea level and were only protected by sand dunes, and building infrastructure to protect coastal areas would require extra financing.
Ghana’s representative noted that the continent’s vulnerability to climate change was further compounded by the lack of, or weak, climate observation and early warning systems, which led to insufficient data on climate fluctuations. Kenya’s speaker echoed that view, saying that, while his country had made encouraging steps in developing adaptation strategies that could serve as building blocks for global efforts, its climate change studies were limited by inadequate data and a poor observation network. Those obstacles forced Kenya to base many of its strategies on statistical analysis of past trends, rather than on current data.
Among delegations from other regions participating in the debate, Costa Rica’s representative said that, just as his country had served as an example by giving up its weapons and spending on education and development, it would now, through alternative ways of achieving development with environmental sustainability, offer a message of hope. Nationally, it had committed to carbon neutrality by 2021, to increase its forest cover and to expand its system of biological corridors. Internationally, it would fight for implementation of environmental rules, promote establishment of a retribution system for the preservation of the primary forests, as well as for a mechanism to swap debt for environmental investments, and establish a network of carbon neutral countries.
Saudi Arabia’s representative warned that mitigation actions must not create market distortions that would lead to instability of energy supplies and cause a disruption to the development process. The mitigation of deeper emission cuts would adversely impact energy-exporting developing countries. That adverse impact would eventually spill over to the energy users. Fossil-fuel-exporting developing countries were in the unique situation of being negatively impacted by climate change, as well as by the responses to it.
Taking a slightly different tack, one speaker noted that the focus had been on fossil fuels as the main driver of greenhouse gases and other atmospheric pollutants, and on developing renewable energy sources to curb the use of such fuels. Relatively little attention had been given to other important factors, such as harmful emissions from other sources, ecological and environmental dangers posed by increased nuclear activity, or the degree to which rampant destruction of the world’s forests was exacerbating the warming of the planet. He urged delegations not to blame fossil fuels themselves for climate anomalies, but to consider changing the way those fuels were used.
Many delegations agreed that that was particularly important, since fossil fuels would remain the prime source for meeting the world’s energy needs in the coming decades, especially for developing countries unable to make the huge financial investment required to research, develop and utilize renewable energy sources. With that in mind, one speaker called on developed countries -- the undeniable leaders in the development of new technologies like the carbon sequestration process -- to guarantee that all nations had access to clean energy, and to ensure that oil-producing countries could access the technology that would lead to the manufacture of clean fuel at reasonable costs.
At the same time, a speaker from central Asia said that, while his country would remain dependent on fossil fuels, it, nevertheless, had great potential to exploit renewable energy sources such as solar, wind biomass, geothermal and others. He joined others from developing and middle-income countries in sharing their strategies for harnessing the potential of “environmentally clean breakthrough technologies”. While all expressed a readiness to implement innovative ideas to promote the use of new technology at national or regional levels, they stressed that achieving sustainable development should be the ultimate objective -– chiefly through the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals –- and that would require enhanced international assistance.
Iceland’s representative shared his national strategy for using renewable energy sources to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions, as well as for helping developing countries harness geothermal energy for heating and electricity. Iceland was already meeting more than 70 per cent of its total energy needs with renewable sources, such as geothermal and hydropower. Iceland’s next steps included employing other new technologies, such as hydrogen, a clean burning fuel, to provide electricity. For years, Iceland had hosted the United Nations University Geothermal Training Programme, which had trained 359 fellows from 40 countries, with the aim of building or strengthening groups of specialists in geothermal exploration and development.
Norway’s representative announced that his Government, in cooperation with the private sector, had embarked on an ambitious programme for carbon capture and storage. That technology would likely become central to reducing the total global greenhouse gas emissions, and the Norwegian Government intended to actively distribute and deploy that important technology. On Norway’s ongoing development assistance programmes, the Government was gearing up for more cooperation on renewable energy and energy efficiency, increased investment in clean development mechanisms and relevant capacity-building, especially in Africa.
Highlighting a unique forest management scheme, the speaker for the United Republic of Tanzania said his country was among those supporting the emerging principle that developing countries that prevented deforestation, in effect, reduced emissions. Such countries should benefit financially for protecting forest reserves for a global good -– carbon sequestration. For its part, Tanzania had set aside more than 20 per cent of its territory as forest preserves, game preserves and national parks, which, thus, acted as a net carbon sink. There must be positive global incentive, similar to those under clean development mechanisms, to encourage and compensate developing countries for providing this service.
Describing his country’s strategy for adaptation, the representative of the Maldives said his country had started with the protection of vital infrastructures, strengthening flood defences, raising public awareness and promoting behavioural change. The “safe island zone” concept sought to identify particularly vulnerable communities and relocate them to a place where their security would be less threatened and where they could build their livelihoods.
Cuba’s representative underscored the central role the General Assembly should play in the global debate on climate change, as the issue demanded both a comprehensive political outlook and a global assessment in a specialized body. The Security Council, which had debated the issue a few months ago, was an organ with a limited membership. It was neither representative nor very transparent and did not have the mandate or the necessary expertise to properly address the matter.
Statements were also made by the representatives of Libya, Uruguay, Greece, Spain, Cuba, Switzerland, Senegal, Myanmar, Liechtenstein, Argentina, El Salvador, Czech Republic, Malaysia, Guatemala, Chile, Kazakhstan, Syria, Tunisia, Namibia, Israel, Iran, Denmark, Belgium, Tuvalu, Nepal, Niger, Republic of Moldova, Bangladesh, Peru, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Lebanon, Papua New Guinea, Barbados, Malawi, Thailand, Albania, Palau, Morocco, Bahrain and Montenegro.
The Permanent Observer of Palestine also spoke, as did a representative of the Asian-African Legal Consultative Organization.
* *** *For information media • not an official record