ECOSOC Special Event on 'Achieving the MDGs and Coping with the Challenges of Climate Change'

Mr. President,
Distinguished delegates,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me begin by congratulating you, Mr. President, on organizing this ECOSOC Special Event on climate change and development. I am honoured to have the opportunity to contribute to this important and very timely initiative.

Today, it is widely recognised that climate change is, fundamentally, a sustainable development challenge, involving not only environmental protection, but also economic and social development. It is also widely recognized that, if left unaddressed, climate change could threaten the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals – and not only MDG-7 on environmental sustainability.

For instance, the reduction in child mortality is likely to be hampered by the spread of disease as a result of warmer temperatures. Efforts to fight poverty and hunger could be undermined by the intensity and frequency of natural disasters and droughts threatening crops, particularly in Africa. Time spent by girls fetching water, one of the main reasons for failure of girls to attend school, is likely to increase even further as water resources become scarcer. Infrastructure, which is critical for development, will be more prone to damage by extreme weather events. We could enter a world where rapid reversals in human development, and a drift towards irreversible ecological damage, would become very difficult to avoid.

Given the scale and momentum of climate change, it is already too late to fully stop it. Yet, if we do not act too late, we can still hope to avoid even more disruptive climate change, and in a way that puts us more firmly on the path to sustainable development, especially for the poorest and most vulnerable people.

In this effort, there is no escaping the need for a substantial cut in greenhouse gas emissions. However, the gap between words and action on reducing emissions remains wide.

Without sacrificing economic growth or poverty reduction, and in line with the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, both developed and developing countries will need to redouble their efforts to reduce emissions, with industrialised countries taking the lead. We will also need to bring on board the private sector which has the practical know-how, technology and financial resources to lead the transition to a low-carbon economy.

At the same time, we must also learn to cope with the effects of climate change. Action will be needed on many fronts to reduce the vulnerability of communities to natural hazards, through sustainable development practices.

In practice, this means strengthened flood prevention measures, early warning systems and sound building codes. It means planting mangrove trees on exposed coastlines, or drought-resistant crops in dry areas. It means educating children and communities about disaster preparedness and risk reduction. It means integrating scientific and indigenous knowledge into decision-making.

In particular, the resilience of the most vulnerable groups in society will have to be strengthened. While having contributed the least to climate change, they are also the least equipped – in terms of financial, technical and social resources – to deal with it.

Overall, an effective response to climate change will require both a mix of policies and the systematic inclusion of climate change considerations into sustainable development strategies and investment decisions.

Strengthening the transfer, deployment and diffusion of climate mitigation and adaptation technologies is one very important element. It requires enhanced collaboration and cooperation among countries, including South-South cooperation, as underscored in the Bali Action Plan. It will also require strengthening national capacity because technical capacities and trained national personnel are needed to adapt technologies to national circumstances.

Another challenge which still looms large is how to secure financing for new, cleaner technologies. Today, the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), under the Kyoto Protocol, is the only multilateral mechanism that provides financial and technical assistance in this area to developing countries. Not all countries have been able to benefit equally from the mechanism. Most of the projects have been in large countries, in part because of the high costs of project approval, which make only large projects viable. Recent changes to address this are encouraging, and the post-2012 arrangements could further improve opportunities for smaller projects. Beyond CDM, other financing mechanisms may also be required, given the scale of future investment needs in low-carbon technologies.

Additional and secure financing for adaptation will also be crucial, especially for the most vulnerable countries. Public infrastructure projects will often incur additional costs for ‘climate-proofing’, and the international community will need to help cover them.

While the list of challenges might seem daunting, we should firmly reject a “gloom and doom” attitude. We have, at hand, the tools to address climate change and to promote development in an integrated and balanced way. To this, of course, we will need to add a healthy dose of political will, on the part of all stakeholders.

We will have an opportunity to make further headway in integrating climate change into national development strategies and international policies in July, at the 2008 Annual Ministerial Review (AMR), which will bring together environment, development and finance Ministers to focus on implementation of sustainable development commitments.

I am confident that the AMR will benefit from our discussion here today on “Achieving the MDGs and coping with the challenges of climate change”. Let us proceed in a positive spirit, searching together for workable solutions to address the twin challenges of climate change and development.

I wish us all a truly stimulating debate.

Thank you.

File date: 
Friday, May 2, 2008
Statement by Mr. Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs to ECOSOC Special Event on “Achieving the MDGs and Coping with the Challenges of Climate Change”

New York, 2 May 2008