Equity, innovation and investment must steer the global drive to build climate-resilient societies and economies powered by clean engines of growth, speakers today told the General Assembly’s high-level Sustainable Development Goal action event.
Centred on the theme “Climate Change and the Sustainable Development Agenda”, the event heard from ministers, senior Government officials and other high-level representatives who discussed ways to raise the required financial resources to fulfil commitments to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on climate change alongside the actions needed to make concrete progress on the ground. At a time when the global temperature was expected to rise 3°C to 4°C, a range that would jeopardize humanity’s survival, speakers shared climate concerns and success stories.
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said climate change was both a massive opportunity and an unprecedented threat. The current situation was clear and indisputable. Sea ice had reached an all-time low, sea levels had risen to a historic high, 2016 had been the hottest on record and carbon dioxide had topped the critical 400 parts per million level. “There is no longer any doubt,” he said. “Human activity is causing dangerous global warming.”
The Secretary-General went on to say that all nations now recognized the challenges, with more than 130 countries ratifying the Paris Agreement and the United Nations 193 Member States adopting the 2030 Agenda. Every month, more countries were transforming their pledges into national climate action plans because they realized the threat and saw the clear benefits. Even if some Governments backtracked on their commitments, he said, the combined efforts of subnational authorities, business and civil society had created an unstoppable momentum. Climate action was a necessity and an opportunity to improve the health and well-being of people and the planet and to advance efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
Providing examples of mileposts that had been reached around the world, he said solar power had grown by 50 per cent in 2016, with investments at $300 billion, and more than half of new energy generation came from renewables, with the sector employing 8 million and counting. “The world is moving towards a green economy,” he said. “Governments and businesses increasingly understand that there is no trade-off between a healthy environment and a healthy economy. We can have both.”
Agreeing, Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, said the potential rewards from acting on climate change and sustainability were immense, with a possible $12 trillion in market opportunities. With people and the planet at the centre of addressing current climate and development challenges, transformation towards those goals must promote the responsible use of natural resources while protecting the environment for future generations. Further, efforts must be defined by equity, innovation and investment in a future where resilient societies and economies were powered by clean engines of growth.
“We must bend the emissions curve, build societies resilient to climate impacts and reduce risk by limiting warming to safe levels,” she said. “Policies that accomplish these goals must be developed with a focus on the sustained well-being of people, sound stewardship of the planet and responsible economic growth.”
General Assembly President Peter Thomson (Fiji) said it was possible to bend the current trajectories, as long as everyone worked together to curb the growth of global greenhouse gas emissions. Such action included recognizing the interlinked nature of efforts on climate change, sustainable development, humanitarian assistance, migration management, sustaining peace and leveraging mutually reinforcing opportunities for action.
During the two-day event, the Assembly held a panel discussion on “Stocktaking on Climate — Ambition and Action” and sessions on the themes “Implementing solutions: Scaling up implementation of the Paris Agreements and the Sustainable Development Goals” and “2020 as opportunity: Achieving 2020 targets of the Sustainable Development Goals and nationally determined contribution (NDC) ambitions”.
During a wrap-up segment titled “The Way Forward”, facilitators summarized the panel discussion and sessions.
Andrew Steer, President and Chief Executive Officer of the World Resources Institute, moderated the morning panel, saying the discussion had focused on the sobering reality of climate consequences and the ways in which targets could be met to improve the situation, including emissions reductions by 2020. Delegates had also shared steps their respective countries were taking to do so, including by implementing a carbon tax and by creating multi-stakeholder partnerships.
On session I, Elizabeth Cousens, Deputy Chief Executive Officer of the United Nations Foundation, said a robust conversation had centred on solutions, with interventions by delegates and representatives from a range of sectors. Speakers had highlighted innovative transport, urban design and financing efforts alongside challenges, including information gaps. Delegates had also addressed cross-cutting issues, gender equality and data’s role in advancing progress in scaling up application of the Sustainable Development Goals.
Providing a snapshot of session II, Daniele Violetti, Chief of Staff of the Office of the Executive Secretary in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Secretariat, said speakers had clearly recognized 2020 as a target year for the Sustainable Development Goals. A vibrant discussion had stressed the importance of information-sharing and strong leadership and had recognized the sense of urgency to move into the implementation stage, with many speakers underlining that the rights of those who were the most affected should be at the centre of such efforts.
The Assembly then held a panel discussion on “Stocktaking on Climate — Ambition and Action”. Moderated by Andrew Steer, President and Chief Executive Officer of the World Resources Institute, it featured presentations by Hoesung Lee, Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; Ségolène Royal, Minister of the Environment, Energy and Marine Affairs of France; Luke Daunivalu, Chargé d’Affaires of Fiji to the United Nations; Howard Bamsey, Executive Director of the Green Climate Fund Secretariat; Jay Inslee, Governor of the State of Washington of the United States; and Princess Abze Djigma, Chief Executive Officer of AbzeSolar in Burkina Faso.
Mr. STEER said there had never been more optimism or political agreement for both the Sustainable Development Goals or the Paris Agreement on climate change. At the same time, however, the world was confronted with a closing window “and we are losing the battle”. He invited participants to consider how to accelerate progress while at the same time moving forward to reach the all-important tipping point in 2020.
Mr. LEE presented some of the key evidence that demonstrated that warming of the climate system was unequivocal and that, since the 1950s, many observed changes were unprecedented. Citing the Intergovernmental Panel’s Fifth Assessment Report, he said human influence on climate was clear, but also that humanity had the means to limit climate change and build a sustainable future. According to science, there was no need for trade-offs between addressing climate change and pursuing sustainable development. Rather, they could be mutually supportable. “Business as usual” would be far from usual without a mitigation of climate change. “You cannot pursue economic development by relying on high-carbon technology,” he said, stressing that action to limit climate change would have a positive economic impact and improve human well-being.
Ms. ROYAL said the Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda were examples of multilateralism working very well. Of the 194 parties to the Paris Agreement, 58 had yet to ratify. Some had started the ratification process; others had been delayed by elections while others had not even begun. About 20 texts regarding implementation also needed to be adopted. Noting the Intergovernmental Panel’s forthcoming report on oceans, she said 2018 would be a key year. The world already was on the correct road, with the cost of renewable energy dropping quite significantly. France was committed to doing what others had been asked to do. The country’s first “green bond” issue had been startlingly successful. She went on to emphasize the value of coalitions, particularly with regard to Goal 7 (affordable and clean energy) and Goal 9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure). “We want to see the Paris Agreement actually working on the ground,” she said, describing that instrument and the Sustainable Development Goals as tool boxes and maps for taking humanity forward.
Mr. DAUNIVALU, underscoring Fiji’s presidency of the twenty-third session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Climate Change, or COP23, said his country’s fewer than 1 million people felt the impact of climate change every day. Tackling climate change and its associated stresses provided humanity with the greatest hope of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly for those living on an island where the consequences of delay were great. Summarizing the key objective of the COP23 presidency, he said Fiji would emphasize climate adaptation and resilience-building, working with the private sector in that regard, without taking its eyes off reducing carbon emissions.
Mr. BAMSEY said climate change used to be seen as a burden with economic costs. Now, however, it was understood more as an opportunity and a source of wealth creation. Investment in climate-friendly economic activity was under way, although it was not so evident in the developing world. Recalling that the Green Climate Fund had $10 billion in public resources, he said “we need to use our billions to leverage the investment of trillions” from the private sector. The Fund was now starting to make investments, insisting on projects that would meet the authentic aspirations of the countries concerned while creating markets, as well as models, that could be replicated in other places.
Mr. INSLEE said humanity’s innovation, genius, creativity and technological ability could build a clean-energy economy. Prosperity would inevitably follow. Making the distinction between Washington State and Washington, District of Colombia, he said his state had felt the impact of climate change, including major forest fires, drought and ocean acidification, but it was also boldly leading efforts to develop a clean-energy economy. Its progress in that direction would not be stopped, he said, explaining that in the United States, states were “laboratories of democracy”. The people of his state wanted green jobs and less carbon pollution, he said, adding that it would move forward “because that is the only direction we know”.
Princess ABZE DJIGMA, emphasizing that “green business is good”, quoted a proverb from Burkina Faso about solutions always being present if someone brought attention to them. Implementation was the key word, she said, adding that women and youth were potential game-changers. Africa had a glut of innovators who only needed a platform to become like the State of Washington. Emphasizing that technology recognized no sex, borders or colour, she said vocational training was key to accelerated implementation of the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals. An integrated bottom-up approach with cross-cutting thinking was needed. “If we all invest and go forward, you will see that the sky is the limit for all of us,” she said.