Press Conference by United Nations Leadership Forum on Climate Change

22 September 2009

Press Conference by United Nations Leadership Forum on Climate Change

22 September 2009
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference by United Nations Leadership Forum on Climate Change


Reaching agreement at the upcoming Copenhagen Climate Conference on a new pact to reduce greenhouse gas emissions would be a “daunting” challenge, but not an impossible one, Al Gore told correspondents today during a press conference of the United Nations Leadership Forum on Climate Change.


Mr. Gore, Nobel Laureate and Chairman of Generation Investment Management, said that 76 days before the start of the Copenhagen Summit, personal involvement of Heads of State and Government would be crucial to break the current deadlock on crafting a successor treaty to the Kyoto Protocol.  That Treaty’s first commitment period is set to expire in 2012.


In that regard, he was particularly encouraged by the leadership of the United States.  As Congress was currently weighing climate change legislation, he noted that United States President Barack Obama had pledged to get personally involved in pushing key climate change legislation through the Senate before Copenhagen.


For his part, Mr. Gore called on the United States Senate to pass the bill quickly and not be distracted by “backward-looking” amendments such as one that could strip the Government of its authority to mandate CO2 emissions under the Clean Air Act.  In addition, he called on all participants in today’s meeting on climate change, convened by the United Nations Secretary-General, to move forward on concrete proposals for financing of adaptation and technology transfer.


The press conference, moderated by Robert Orr, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Strategic Planning, also featured:  Lars Løkke Rasmussen, Prime Minister of Denmark; Helmy Abouleish, Managing Director, SEKEM; Djimon Hounsou, actor; Barbara Krumsiek, President, Calvert Investments; and Zhengrong Shi, Chairman, Suntech.  By demonstrating explicit private sector support for bold climate action, the Forum intends to build positive political momentum towards the Copenhagen Climate Conference, set for 7 to 18 December.


Prime Minister Rasmussen, of Denmark, said the international business community and civil society sought a decisive solution to climate change that would stimulate green growth and development.  The outcome of the Copenhagen Conference should be ambitious and binding, and should include the two-degree warming scenario.  The industrialized countries should commit themselves to short‑, mid- and long-term substantive reduction targets.


Moreover, he said developing countries should be invited to take domestic actions leading to an estimate of their emission patterns.  Developed countries should commit themselves to financing adaptation and transfer of green technologies.  The agreement should also integrate a monitoring, reporting and verification framework.  The private sector would play a vital role in shaping a low-carbon future.


Mr. Shi said that leadership by the United States and China would be vital in combating climate change.  In order to promote and increase application of clean technologies, close cooperation in the area of clean technologies such as wind and solar power, without trade barriers or protectionism, was necessary.  A global climate change agreement would offer huge opportunities to clean technologies, he declared, noting that over the past five years, the solar industry in Europe, the United States, Japan and China had grown more than 50 per cent.  Over the next two to five years, the cost of solar-generated energy was predicted to drop, so the price of solar electricity would become competitive.


Mr. Abouleish said that farmers in Egypt and Africa were very concerned about the impact of climate change on agriculture.  Specifically, Egypt would be the second most impacted country in the world because of, among other things, rising sea levels.  At the same time however, farming was also part of the solution, as it could contribute up to 30 per cent of the needed abatement.  He called on the Copenhagen Conference to include consideration of sustainable agriculture and forest management, as well as for incentives for farmers to work for food security, and at the same time, to save the planet.  Commercial enterprises had an obligation beyond profit making and must report on their carbon footprint.


Ms. Krumsiek said Calvert Investments provided mutual funds that invested in socially and environmentally responsible companies, and focused on environmental and financial performance.  There was no greater issue for investors than climate change.  The long-term sustainability of companies would be based on decisions taken today.  Investors needed a “robust agreement” in Copenhagen, in order to better measure and manage risk.  She urged the leaders of the world to come together and work to “seal the deal”.


For his part, Mr. Hounsou added that he had seen first-hand the devastation wrought by drought in sub-Saharan countries and urged all to have respect for the planet.  Deserts were advancing at a fast pace, especially that region, and action must be taken “now”.


Answering questions about the status of the climate change bill in the Senate, Mr. Gore said the United States had an “almost unique” role in providing important leadership in the situation.  The moral authority President Obama could wield in Copenhagen would be greatly enhanced if the Senate passed legislation before Copenhagen.  That legislation had been delayed by the controversy over health care, but there were indications that that deadlock would soon be broken.


Mr. Gore also highlighted the influence of the judiciary in his country, pointing out that the Supreme Court had recently ruled that C02 was a pollutant covered by the Clean Air Act, so the Environmental Protection Agency now had the authority to mandate reductions.  Legislation against that authority would be vetoed by the President.  Yesterday, a Federal Court ruled that large CO2 emitters could be sued under common law, he said.


Mr. Rasmussen added that the United States would still play a strong leadership role, even if no legislation was passed, especially in the person of President Obama.  The private sector was ready to invest if they heard a clear signal of long-term commitment from world leaders.


In that regard, Ms. Krumsiek pointed out that there was a statement, signed by some 200 institutional investors managing a total of $13 trillion, on the need to reach agreement in Copenhagen.  Including the private sector in the process was necessary.  There was self-interest involved in inclusion, she said, answering a   question about the standards used at the United Nations in working with the private sector.  To exclude companies’ involvement in the Forum, on the basis of self-interest, would lose a “robust” business presence that could contribute to solutions.


Mr. Orr added that the collective private sector needed to be part of the solution.  The United Nations had invited key players to the table.  The Global Compact had been engaging with a wide range of companies, with a resulting improvement in performance.  Approximately 40 per cent of participating companies reported their greenhouse emissions and climate change data to the Carbon Disclosure Project.


Asked about the statement by China’s representative at the opening of today’s events this morning, Mr. Gore said that that country had provided “impressive” leadership in combating climate change.  It was the leading nation in wind and solar power, and had planted two-and-a-half times more trees than the entire rest of the world together.  The goals announced today were not insignificant and there were indications that if progress in negotiations was made, China would do more, he said.


As for this morning’s statement by President Obama, Mr. Gore had been encouraged by his promise to get personally involved in the work of the Senate Committees trying to pass climate change legislation.  President Obama’s statement had also included a reference to a “highly significant” measure on greenhouse gas reporting.  That would force companies to reduce their emissions, out of fear that their reputation would be damaged.


To a question about technology transfer and concerns about intellectual property, Mr. Shi said collaboration in clean technology was global.  China could produce solar power cells cheaply, but must import advanced manufacturing equipment from abroad.  More exchange of innovative manufacturing technologies was necessary and teamwork was needed in order to produce cheaper green energy products, as green power was currently too expensive.  The technology was there and investors were ready to act, but the business community wanted real action at Copenhagen.


Mr. Rasmussen added that technology transfer must be an integrated part of Copenhagen and the United States had proposed a framework on technology cooperation.  Co-financing of transfers to developing countries was also necessary.


However, Mr. Abouleish pointed out that technology transfer to developing countries was not happening today, due to the lack of a framework and a funding mechanism.  Asked about a lack of awareness among the people in Egypt and Africa, he said that the citizens and media must promote discussion about climate change and that the Governments must be lobbied.  He warned that companies that did not engage today would not exist 15 years from now.


Mr. Gore added that soil carbon conservation and the re-carbonization of soil must be the next stage in the negotiating process.  A clear signal at Copenhagen, that carbon and soil issues would be included in future talks, would be a very important measure to help build the confidence of developing nations, most of all in sub-Saharan Africa, where soil carbon had been so depleted that it was now greatly contributing to food insecurity.  Re-carbonization of soil could be done with new technologies, application of which could result in carbon credits.


Addressing a question about the principle of common but differentiated responsibility, Mr. Rasmussen said the phrase for Copenhagen meant that rich countries must commit to short-, mid- and long-term reduction targets.  Developing countries must commit to actions, whereby it would be fully recognized that they had the right to increase their energy consumption to support their development.


He stressed that such developing countries should, however, follow a different track in energy generation.  As money was an important element, he was encouraged that the European Commission had put an offer on the table.  Actions needed to be concrete.


Mr. Gore said neither word was the same as “binding”.  The President of Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed, this morning had called on developing countries to undertake binding obligations for reductions.  “Differentiated” meant that those reductions would not be the same as those of developed countries.  There had to be support, adaptation and transfer of technology.  However, there should be common obligations that were binding, even if differentiated, he declared.


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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.