|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference on Climate Change by Prince Albert II of Monaco
The international community must set stronger targets to curb the pollution causing global warming and act to address new industrial threats to a rapidly melting Arctic environment, Prince Albert II of Monaco said today at a Headquarters press conference, where he was joined by fellow members of the Aspen Institute Commission on Arctic Climate Change.
“If we do not act today, we will no longer be able to act tomorrow,” he said, warning that once the ice disappeared it would be too late. “Twenty years from now the world will have radically changed, and we have but just a few months to choose the nature of this change; unprecedented environmental and climatic impact or a profound alteration to the way we act within the environment.”
To that end, he asked negotiating parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to adopt international greenhouse gas mitigation targets that safeguarded the ecosystems in the Artic, which has been warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet. He also appealed to the eight Arctic Governments -- Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russian Federation, Sweden and the United States --- formally asking them to act together to reduce greenhouse gases and to set up an observation and notification network capable of tracking changes in Arctic ice in real time.
Prince Albert was joined by four members of the Aspen Commission: Frances Beinecke, President of the National Resources Defense Council; Jim Leape, Director General of the World Wildlife Fund-International; Fran Ulmer, Chancellor of the University of Alaska and former Lieutenant Governor of that state; and Sheila Watt-Cloutier, an Inuit advocate. Lisa Speer, Director of the International Oceans Program of the National Resources Defense Council, and David Monsma, Executive Director of the Aspen Institute's Energy and Environment Program, also spoke.
Together, they underlined the Arctic’s unique fragility, particularly in the face of emerging industrial pressures. It was already predicted that the Arctic could be free of sea ice by 2013. That type of whole-scale environmental change was putting not only Arctic ecosystems at risk, but threatening the region’s 4 million inhabitants.
Describing the region as the proverbial “canary in the coal mine”, Mr. Leape stressed that changes in the Arctic foreshadowed what was happening the world over. Scientists suggested that melting of the Greenland ice sheet would result in a rise of 1 metre in global sea levels. Moreover, as the permafrost thawed, huge quantities of methane and other gases were being released and threatened to accelerate global warming.
“With Copenhagen less than three months away, it is on the brink of being too late,” he said. In light of encouraging statements made by Japan and China during the opening of the Secretary-General’s high-level Summit on Climate Change, he urged other countries to step up their commitments.
Echoing this sense of urgency, Ms. Watt–Cloutier said reaching a successful agreementin Copenhagen marked the last, best chance to halt climate change’s impact. As an inhabitant of Nunavut, she knew first-hand how the thinning ice and thawing countryside affected indigenous hunters. Nowhere else in the world did snow and ice represent a means of transportation and the ice loss posed unique dangers.
To that end, she supported linking climate change to human rights and considered that Copenhagen would be successful only if it resulted in a treaty that slowed and then reversed worldwide temperature increases in the next 40 to 50 years. A weak target that simply stabilized the temperature increase at 2°C was not sustainable and should not be accepted. “Push your own national delegations to bold, courageous action,” she said.
Asked if the Antarctic Treaty provided a useful model for the development of a framework for the Arctic region, Mr. Leape said that agreement had an impressive history applied to a very different region. The Antarctic was a continent surrounded by ocean, while the Arctic was an ocean surrounded by land. This made the governance challenges quite different, since it involved a marine resource that was shared by a number of national Governments.
Ms. Speer suggested, however, that the spirit of the Antarctic Treaty, as well as its intent to create a region where the environment came first had great potential for application in the Arctic. But, with the ice melting so quickly and new industrial activity encroaching so rapidly, it was necessary to adopt an international agreement to govern activities in the Arctic as soon as possible.
When asked if United States President Barack Obama’s morning address to the Summit had been strong enough, Mr. Leape said Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama of Japan and President Hu Jintao of China had put impressive and concrete commitments on the table. The same kind of concreteness had not been heard from President Obama today. While there was no question that the President recognized the need for global action and also had a willingness to engage in it, a sense of how the United States would work with the world community to find a solution that was needed between now and December had not been seen today.
Pressed on how Japan’s stated target reduction of 25 per cent in greenhouse gas emissions could be harnessed, Mr. Leape said Prime Minister Hatoyama had put an important marker out for the international community. Nevertheless, he had his work cut out for him, particularly in mobilizing political support in Japan. But, if the world was going to do what needed to be done to curb climate change, industrial countries needed to come in at similar levels of commitment.
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