Thousands of representatives of non-governmental organizations urged Friday that governments worldwide take “the strongest possible” action to address climate change.

That conclusion was reached after three days of meetings at UN Headquarters in New York, where the participants noted that efforts to reach a meaningful universal agreement on climate change in Paris and the adoption of a post-2015 agenda are to culminate next year within months of each other.

Both events have the potential to shape the future of the planet and its peoples, said the outcome document of the 65th annual UN Department of Public Information/Non-Governmental Organization Conference.

“Our vision for the post-2015 Development Agenda is that of an equitable, inclusive, and sustainable world where every person is safe, resilient, lives well, and enjoys their human rights, and where political and economic systems deliver well-being for all people within the limits of our planet’s resources,” it said.

Failure to recognize the planet’s limits or to combat climate change’s harmful effects “cannot be considered transformative,” it concluded.

A transformational change in agriculture and food systems “is urgently needed to address unprecedented environmental, social and economic challenges and to nourish a population of 9 billion people by 2050,” it added. “We therefore call for a shift to sustainable agriculture and food systems.”

That means that “business as usual is no longer an option,” it added.

The outcome document further called for “absolute decoupling” of economic growth from natural resource consumption and environmental degradation to ensure sustainable development.

Addressing climate change is a prerequisite to ending poverty, it said. It called for phasing out all fossil fuel emissions and phasing in a 100 per cent renewable energy future with
sustainable energy access for all, as early as possible, but not later than 2050.

Finance and technology should be provided to combat climate change, it said.

Participants attending the Conference stressed that the development goals set by the post-2015 agenda need not necessarily conflict with the effort to reach agreement under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

“The question is: What shall be done about the environmental impact on the poor?” said Dork Sahagian, director of Environmental Initiative and Professor, Earth and Environmental Sciences, at Lehigh University.

The UN appears to be playing the role of a captain of a ship called Earth that is overloaded, he said. “It has a hole in it out of which carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are leaking and into which water’s coming. And it’s sinking.

“The poor people are at the lowest levels. They’re going to drown first. So what does the captain do? Well, one can direct the crew to move the people up to higher levels, to give them a little bit more time before they drown along with everybody else.

“Or the captain can say, ‘Well, let’s go and plug the hole and start bailing and everybody will get to their destination, including those at the lower level, where they will then have the opportunity to develop in the way they aspire.’

“And perhaps that’s a broad way the UN may consider the relationship between climate change and sustainable development in the longer term.”

Both processes are linked, which is good, since that linkage will help in the search for synergies, said Lina Dabbagh, who is also Post-2015 Officer for Climate Action Network International, a worldwide network of more than 900 non-governmental organizations in more than 100 countries.

“We know what needs to be done,” she said, referring to plans to phase out the use of fossil fuels. “We need the political will to move this ship, as Dork said, into the safe haven for all of us.”
For civil society to do its part to direct the ship to safe harbour, “we will have to inform people about the post-2015 process.”

Toward that end, she invited participants to join climate marches to be held all over the world on 21 September.