By Karen Rubin, News-Photos-Features.com
There was the sense at the United Nations Climate Action Summit that took place September 23, that the Trump Administration – but not the United States – is irrelevant to the crusade to mitigate the most devastating impacts of climate change. Indeed, the rest of the world, American states, localities and businesses, is forging full steam ahead to prevent the earth from warming more than 1.5 degrees Celsius – and all the devastation that would result – within the next 12 years.
“We know why tackling climate change is important”, said Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed before the Climate Action Summit began. “The devastation wreaked by Dorian on the Bahamas, what the Secretary-General called a Category Hell hurricane, is a glimpse into one aspect of a future powered by climate change – a future with super storms that grow in intensity and frequency, where those countries with the lowest greenhouse gas emissions, continue to feel the worst impacts of the planet’s rising temperatures.”
“The summit will present practical and new measures, speed transition from coal to clean energy, cut pollution harming health, protect nature, unlock the potential of nature to deliver on climate, create cleaner greener waste, speed up transition from grey to green economies, mitigate impacts of climate change, leave no one behind, transition must be ramped up now,” she said at a press briefing before the summit.
The Climate Action Summit was designed to showcase only the boldest, transformative actions – specifics, not hyperbole or speechifying.
“We will see what climate leadership looks like – progress toward carbon neutral future.”
Trump snubbed the summit, choosing instead to host a Religious Freedom Forum, and highlighted America’s military might but did not mention climate change once, in his address to the General Assembly. But just about every other leader did refer to the critical need and their commitment to climate action in their speech.
“Can we afford to ignore the crisis of extinction, or will we do the right thing, support energies and talents of all the world’s youth and drive all the economies forward to fair and inclusive society?” Abdullah II bin Al–Hussein, King of Jordan, declared. “What will our world become if we do not work together for a healthy and safe climate. We already know the dangers of climate change – how can we excuse [inaction]”
Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, president of Croatia, declared, “Climate change- rising sea levels – is the greatest threat. Without protection of waters and marine life, there will be nothing to leave.”
Russia, one of the few holdouts and one of the world’s largest carbon emitters with an economy largely based on fossil fuel extraction and export, used the occasion to officially adopt the Paris Climate Agreement. The document signed by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev says Russia will now “allocate financial resources… to developing countries for prevention and adaptation to climate change. The threat of climate change is (the) destruction of the ecological balance, increased risks for successful development of key industries… and most importantly, threat to safety of people living on permafrost and increase of natural disasters.”
Governor Janet Mills of Maine challenged leaders of the world to take action against climate change, saying the State of Maine will do its part and announcing that she has signed an Executive Order committing the state to carbon neutrality by 2045.
Separately, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced New York State is pursuing partnerships with Ireland and Denmark that will lead to improved electric infrastructure and the advancement of more renewable energy sources, including offshore wind. The agreements were announced during Climate Week and will advance both New York’s nation-leading plan to combat climate change and the Governor’s Green New Deal agenda. This summer, Governor Cuomo signed the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, which mandates New York’s power be 100 percent clean and carbon-free by 2040. New York is one of 25 states including California that have formed the US Climate Alliance (USclimatealliance.org) to uphold the Paris Agreement. – collectively representing over 50% of the US population and 60% of the United States’ GDP.
Mohammed acknowledged that the transition “is not one-size fits all – in some countries, renewable energy is already cheaper than coal; others need funding options. It’s not enough that we stop funding coal and actively move to making renewable possible –there is tension there. We must be realistic – you can’t click fingers and create a renewable grid overnight but we also determined there are over 100 coal plants in pipeline and emissions are still rising – that pathway is a serious threat to human survival.”
Informed by the perspectives of more than 130 Governments, a newly issued report, The Heat is On – Taking Stock of Global Climate Ambition, reveals that business as usual, is not good enough and requires more mitigation, adaptation and finance – all which must be done quickly.
“When I look back on this Climate Action Summit, I want us to see it as a sling shot – that helped to change our common trajectory towards sustainability”, said Ms. Mohammed, building trust “between this generation of adults and the next – between our children and ourselves – that we are all working together to our fullest potential to tackle the climate emergency”.
She recapped that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report stressed the need to ensure that “the global temperature rise does not go beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius” through “cutting emissions by 45 per cent by 2030”, warning that “we have very little time to take the decisions needed to get there”.
Those decisions should be set out in each country’s Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) on climate change, which she called “the cornerstone of the Paris Agreement”.
“The world’s poorest 1 billion, we are least responsible for climate crisis – emitting less than 1% of global emissions, yet, our small gross national incomes and limited resources means we suffer the most,” said Sonam P. Wangdi, Secretary of the National Environment Commission, Bhutan.
The United States, with only 5% of the population is responsible for 25% of carbon emissions, and the present administration, which hides behind science denial in order to preserve the status quo of their economic systems, will have a huge impact on whether the efforts made by 190 countries succeed in preserving the planet. But though the government was a no-show at the Climate Action Summit, states, localities and business interests were on hand, offering their commitments so that the United States will achieve the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement led by Obama and rejected by Trump.
Indeed, it was just as if the world has moved on, rendering the United States irrelevant. The thought of holding the US accountable for reparations when an island nation like the Bahamas is devastated by Hurricane Dorian, was discounted. “Who would enforce a decision?” said Wilfred P. Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Belize, a statement made from the experience of Trinidad & Tobago which won a judgment against the US in the World Trade Organization that has yet to be paid.
Small Island Developing States are stepping up and striking back.
“The recent activity of Dorian in Bahamas – devastated that island, and unless you really have experience this kind of devastation it is hard to appreciate how difficult, how absolutely destructive it is,” said Elrington, recalling his own terror at the age of 4 years old when a Category 4 hurricane hit. “From one moment being in a safe, secure structure or building, the next to be completely out in environment with absolutely nothing – you have absolutely nothing – no clothes, medicine, food, completely at the mercy of God. We think of the damage to human beings and the destruction, but equally tragic is the destruction done to floral and fauna – exceedingly depressing to see the entire landscape devastated and and of course, does not come back quickly.”
Apart from saving habitats, climate mitigation and adaptation has the added benefit of addressing poverty and inequality, in part perpetuated by the cost – and reliance –on fossil fuels as the basis for an economy. Shifting to clean, renewable like solar, wind, water, geothermal, lowers the expenditure and increases the independence from concentrated utility companies. Eliminating fossil fuels also reduces pollution and improves health.
But with worldwide pressure – by citizens and consumers – the private sector is being forced to take action as well. Sixteen countries are phasing out gasoline-powered cars over the next several years, rendering US-manufactured cars unexportable, regardless of how Trump attempts to overturn California’s call for higher fuel efficiency standards and lower emissions.
Coalition for Climate Resilient Investment
Just announced, “first of its kind,” Coalition for Climate Resilient Investment “will transform mainstream infrastructure investment and drive a permanent shift toward climate resilient economy for all countries, but especially for low and mid income countries which bear the brunt,” said John Haley, CEO, Willis Towers Watson, one of the world’s largest insurance companies. One of the ways it will change the way money is invested in business ventures and infrastructure is by creating new data analytics that incorporate the cost-benefit of climate adaptation, mitigation and resiliency into the model. “Rapid advancement in data analytics, coupled in momentum of regulatory initiatives and growing pressure from global society is what allows this initiative to be as ambitious as it is.”
He said, “I come from the world of insurance. We work on a lot of analytical tools to price the effect of climate disasters. We will take those kind of analytical tools and build them into understanding what kind of investments we should make in infrastructure – measure the impacts of climate on infrastructure everywhere in the world – more important in vulnerable communities but everywhere in the world [including US, where former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson has been saying the very thing in pushing for a carbon tax].
“Pricing the risks posed by climate change will create opportunities to build a network of resilient infrastructure in high, medium and low-income countries, enabling us to better prevent future human and financial disasters.”
The coalition will develop case studies to build the business case, and identify the critical enabling environments, for climate resilient infrastructure investment.
By the end of 2020, analytical tools including a physical risk pricing framework and methodology to prioritize national resilient investment needs, will be developed, alongside a range of instruments to prevent capital flight from vulnerable regions.
Biggest Names in Video Game Industry Commit to Climate Action
And, in a major mind-blowing commitment, 21 of the biggest names in the video games industry, with a combined audience of 970 million players, formally committed to harness the power of their platforms to take action in response to the climate crisis. Combined, these commitments will result in a 30 million ton reduction of CO2 emissions by 2030, will see millions of trees planted, new “green nudges” in game design and improvements to energy management, packaging, and device recycling. Equally significantly, under the banner of Playing for the Planet Alliance, many will incorporate sustainability and climate action into the games, themselves, letting gamers, for example, toy with building sustainable societies.
These voluntary commitments were announced during the UN Climate Action Summit. CEOs from 14 platforms and games makers, including Sony Interactive Entertainment, Microsoft, Google Stadia, Rovio, Supercell, Sybo, Ubisoft and WildWorks, were present to showcase their commitments. The Alliance intends to support companies in sharing learning and monitoring progress on the environmental agenda.
A full list of the announcements and commitments made at the Climate Summit can be found at www.un.org/climatechange
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