UN kicks off major climate change effort

Updated May 13, 2019

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Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has kicked off a major United Nations push for progress on what he calls the defining issue of our time: climate change. — AFP/File
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has kicked off a major United Nations push for progress on what he calls the defining issue of our time: climate change. — AFP/File

WELLINGTON: Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has kicked off a major United Nations push for progress on what he calls the defining issue of our time: climate change.

Guterres travelled to New Zealand on Sunday, from where he is set to visit several Pacific islands where rising sea levels are threatening the very existence of those small countries.

The stepped-up diplomacy will culminate with a climate action summit at the UN in September, an event billed as a last chance to prevent irreversible climate change, three years after the Paris agreement went into force.

“We are seeing everywhere a clear demonstration that we are not on track to achieve the objectives defined in the Paris agreement,” Guterres said on the failure to limit rises to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial revolution levels.

In a strong message for action on climate change, Guterres said international political resolve was fading and it was the small island nations that were “really in the front line” and would suffer most.

In Fiji, Tuvalu and Vanuatu, Guterres will meet families whose lives have been upended by cyclones, flooding and other extreme weather events.

Pacific island countries face an especially dire risk from climate change because of sea level rise. In some cases, low-lying countries could disappear completely.

Fiji is working to build a coalition of more than 90 countries from the Caribbean, Africa and Asia facing climate crisis.

“We hope that the secretary-general will draw far more inspiration from his first visit to go further, faster and deeper with the climate summit,” Fiji’s UN Ambassador Satyendra Prasad said.

“We are very hopeful that the climate summit will mark a turning point.”

Guterres on Sunday praised New Zealand’s “extremely important” leadership on climate change — Wellington has introduced legislation to become carbon neutral by 2050 — but warned that international political resolve was fading.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, speaking at the joint press conference in Auckland, called climate change “the biggest challenge” facing the global community and said it would be “gross negligence” to avoid the issue.

But the UN push on climate change is shaping up amid geopolitical shifts: the United States under Donald Trump has decided to pull out of the Paris agreement to combat global warming, giving China more space to assert its views.

“The Trump administration’s disdain for climate diplomacy has left China looking like the main guarantor of the Paris agreement,” said Richard Gowan, UN director for the International Crisis Group.

“While China is increasingly active across the UN, other states are suspicious of its stances on human rights and development. But it is the indispensable power in climate talks now.”

Trump announced in 2017 that the United States would exit the Paris agreement, but under the terms of the deal the withdrawal will only become effective in 2020.

The US administration is not taking part in summit preparations but has not said it will skip the event, according to UN officials.

Published in Dawn, May 13th, 2019