29 November 2015 On the eve of the opening in Paris of the United Nations climate change conference, widely known as COP21, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is urging all countries and all sectors of society to act now to reach a new universal climate agreement.
“I'm reasonably optimistic and convinced that world leaders will adopt a very ambitious universal climate change agreement at this COP21,” Mr. Ban told the UN News Centre in an interview on Sunday at the Parisian headquarters of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
“We've been working very hard, very long – the time for action is now. I have seen growing political momentum among Member States. They know that they have to take action.”
Ahead of COP21, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – the UN entity organizing the conference – has already received some 180 voluntary climate action plans from countries. Formally called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, or INDCs, these will form the basis of the agreement expected to be reached.
As more and more INDCs were submitted, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said this shows nations are prepared to take meaningful action to address climate change. Many countries have also indicated they would like to see a mechanism in the agreement that will allow them to ramp up their ambition to reach the goal of limiting a global temperature rise to less than 2 degrees Celsius.
According to experts, a temperature rise beyond this level will cause irreversible damage to the planet by exacerbating droughts, floods, food and water shortages, affecting the most vulnerable countries first. Despite the scientific community acknowledging that the national pledges submitted so far will not limit global temperature rise to less than 2 degrees Celsius, Mr. Ban has underscored that a successful outcome at COP21 would allow the world to ultimately achieve this target.
Tomorrow, around 150 Heads of State and Government are expected at the opening event at the Paris-Le Bourget site, an 18 hectare conference centre north-east of the capital. This space will be the main venue for the two-week meeting, with 32 “negotiating rooms,” working areas for delegations, civil society and journalists, as well as many venues dedicated to side events.
Simultaneously, within the city borders, special events will be held – such as “an afternoon with Robert Redford” at UNESCO on 6 December, and the awarding of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) Equator prize – often referred to as the Academy Awards of sustainable development – taking place at the renowned Théatre Mogador.
At the conference, the interconnectivity between sustainable development and climate issues will be one of the overarching themes. In September, world leaders adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which is composed of 17 goals – the SDGs – to wipe out poverty, fight inequality and tackle climate change over the next 15 years.
Asked how a new climate deal and these SDGs are linked, the UN Secretary-General said a strong climate agreement backed by action on the ground will help the world achieve the global goals “to make the world better and safer.”
“Goal number 13 [focuses on] climate change but if we do not implement the climate change agreement, then all the remaining 16 goals will be affected. Not a single goal can be implemented in isolation,” Mr. Ban explained.
“Science has made it plainly clear – that this climate change phenomenon is caused by human behaviour,” he continued. “It's only natural that we human beings should change our behaviour in a sustainable way. We have to do it. We don't have any time to lose. That's why I am urging world leaders to demonstrate their moral and political leadership for humanity.”
The UN News Centre asked the Secretary-General what makes him optimistic that, in a world full of disease, war and famine, world leaders can work together instead of in their own self-interest.
“[Climate change] doesn't care about national boundaries,” he stated. “This is a global phenomenon and [leaders] understand that investing wisely in climate change will help their national economy boost. There are many countries who are investing in sustainable energy including solar energy. It's skyrocketing.”
The UN climate conference will officially open Monday when the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Laurent Fabius, is elected President of COP21. Negotiations towards a final agreement are expected to conclude on 11 December.
Meanwhile, the Secretary-General today met with French President François Hollande to discuss the status of negotiations and identify key issues still under discussion. A readout issued by Mr. Ban's spokesperson said they agreed that “failure to reach an agreement was not an option and would have disastrous consequences.”
The two leaders also exchanged views on the issue of counter-terrorism and shared their concern of a growing influence of Da'esh beyond Syria and Iraq.
In addition, Mr. Ban stood in solidarity today with the people of Paris who were unable to join a climate march, after it was cancelled last week due to security concerns.
Alongside scores of other people, he donated a pair of his "marching shoes" to be placed at the city's Place de la République near the scene of 20 November's terror attack, and where the climate march was due to start.
“As the world gathers in Paris to stand up for climate action, let us also stand in the shoes of all victims of terrorism, war and persecution – and respond with compassion,” said a note he wrote and left at the scene.
Following the event, the thousands of shoes contributed were donated to a non-governmental organization working with Syrian refugees.
News Tracker: past stories on this issue