SAMOA: Stopping climate change is 'about people, about survival,' says UN envoy

United Nations Special Envoy for Climate Change Mary Robinson Mary Robinson briefs journalists (September 2013). UN Photo/JC McIlwaine (file photo)

2 September 2014 – World leaders have not sufficiently addressed climate issues, United Nations Special Envoy for Climate Change Mary Robinson said Tuesday highlighting the urgency of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and building climate resilient communities.

“This is about people, it's about survival,” she told the UN New Centre, speaking on the margins of the Third International Small Island Developing States Conference on the Pacific island of Samoa.

The Envoy stressed that while vulnerable countries are disproportionally affected by climate change, more and more people are seeing its negative impacts: “It will displace people. It will affect their livelihoods. It will affect their very lives. And we have to see transformative change.”

“Once you have a head of state focused, it becomes a holistic issue. It's a development issue. It's a financial issue. It's a moral issue. It's a political issue. It's all of those issues,” said Mrs. Robinson.

The issue has been a focus for ministers of environment and energy, but “heads of state have not addressed climate sufficiently.”

Since arriving in the capital, Apia, over the weekend, Mrs. Robinson has met with leaders of small island developing states, as well as donor countries and senior UN officials in “very good discussions” about the impact of climate change.

“I've been listening to the leaders of the SIDS and they are engaged in partnerships here,” she said. “They want more support, capacity building, finance. But they really want a climate agreement.”

The UN has been making progress towards a new universal agreement on climate change. Talks have been in the context of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the parent treaty of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. The next round of talks will be held this December in Lima, Peru, followed by a final round in Paris, in 2015.

To build momentum for an agreement and raise funding, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will convene a Climate Summit on 23 September in New York. More than 125 world leaders are expected to attend, the UN announced today.

“We need heads of state to say, each of them, what their country is going to do. There's no 'them' and 'us' anymore. It's all of us. And I believe that the Summit will give a great momentum politically, but also show a lot of actions that are broad partnerships on a whole number of important areas,” Mrs. Robinson said.

Her role in the talks, given that Mr. Ban is not involved in the negotiations, will be to “encourage the importance of the urgency of getting a climate agreement” and to raise financing for development. In addition to political leadership, she stressed the importance of engagement also with the private sector and civil society for a “good, robust, fair climate agreement.”

“I'm going to work flat out until Paris,” Mrs. Robinson said.

The Envoy is also reaching out to women on climate-related issues, including the “Troika Plus” of women leaders who presided over the UNFCCC conferences in Denmark, Mexico and South Africa: Connie Hedegaard, Patricia Espinosa, and Maite Nkoana-Mashabane.

She is also working with support from the Mary Robinson Foundation-Climate Justice, as well as the entity UN Women, to involve leaders such as Chilean President Michelle Bachelet and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia.

“I do believe that climate has to be an issue that women and young people and the very poorest have their voices heard,” she said.

A former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mrs. Robinson has said that climate change is not just an issue of atmospheric science but of human rights and fundamental justice.

“I want us to think about the injustice of how climate is affecting those who are least responsible. And affecting them severely, reversing some of their development,” she noted.

“We need to make a special effort to focus more on adaptation but also on the future we want - which is a future that has renewable energy, zero carbon emissions, and better health, better light, better energy, better job prospects for everybody.”

The issue is also personal for her and her five grandchildren: “I think a lot about the world that they will be growing into in 2050. They will be in their 40s, the world will be 9 billion people. And I think a lot about how secure that world will be and how necessary it is that we take the right decisions in 2014 and 2015.”


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