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Top 5 Takeaways From the UNs Climate Summit

posted Oct 16, 2014, 6:01 PM by Sean Donovan
Gabrielle Fogarty forwards on this information by the Congregation of Our Lady of Mount Carmel from the Climate Summit

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Top 5 Takeaways From the UNs Climate Summit

1. Extreme weather is spurring action: One thing the shock-and-awe blitz of world leaders' four-minute speeches had in common is that countries now recognize they are already feeling the sting of climate change, in the form of extreme weather. From more intense heat waves to larger wildfires, these climate events are providing a basis for action that was missing the last time leaders gathered to discuss climate change in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 2009.

U.S. President Barack Obama spoke about the impacts of extreme weather as a major motivator for climate action, as did leaders from every other inhabited continent. In America, the past decade has been our hottest on record. Along our eastern coast, the city of Miami now floods at high tide. In our west, wildfire season now stretches most of the year. In our heartland, farms have been parched by the worst drought in generations, and drenched by the wettest spring in our history. A hurricane left parts of this great city dark and underwater. And some nations already live with far worse.

In China, for example, extreme weather and climate events have been taking a huge toll on the economy, and complicated efforts to reduce poverty. At the summit, Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli went a step further than China has ever gone before in announcing that the country's emissions of manmade greenhouse gases would peak "as early as possible."  In a press conference following Zhang's speech, Xie Zhenhua, vice-chairman of China's National Development and Reform Commission, told reporters that "weather extremes have greatly affected the Chinese people."  Xie said weather extremes have cost China more than 200 billion Renminbi per year. “The losses are extensive in China," Xie said, noting that climate impacts extend to "water, land and people." These impacts, along with China's staggering air pollution problem, are forcing China to take action both on climate mitigation, which refers to preventing global warming, and adaptation, which means coping with its consequences.  “We’re on the same page with those countries when it comes to the importance of adaptation,” Xie said. China is the world's top emitter of planet-warming carbon dioxide.

2. We are awesome at opening and closing Climate Summit meetings. The in-between part still needs some work: The most powerful moment at the entire summit occurred during its opening ceremony. Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, a 26-year-old poet from the low-lying Marshall Islands, a small nation in the western Pacific, read a poem that essentially shamed world leaders for not acting fast enough to prevent sea level rise.  Recent studies show that global average sea level rise may exceed 3.3 feet by the end of this century, with higher amounts in some areas. Small island states from the Marshall Islands to Kiribati have been warning for years that they face extinction if global warming is not curbed.

Philippines delegate Yeb Sano pleaded with the world to "stop this madness" at the 2013 climate talks in Warsaw, shortly after his country was ravaged by Super Typhoon Haiyan.  Haiyan was one of the most intense typhoons on record, with maximum sustained winds of about 195 miles per hour, when it slammed into the city of Tacloban on Nov. 7, 2013.

3. The Green Climate Fund: The Green Climate Fund was established at the 2009 Copenhagen Summit, and was considered to be a positive, tangible outcome at the 2009 meeting. Industrialized nations, including the U.S., set a goal of providing $100 billion a year to developing countries through 2020 to ease their transition off fossil fuels, and combat climate change impacts. The fund is now raising money for its first three years of operation after 2015, but is nowhere near its goals.

Greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, have been rising at an increasing rate in recent years. A total of about $1.3 billion in new pledges were announced from Denmark, France, South Korea, Norway, Mexico and three smaller nations. The lack of a U.S. financial commitment was noteworthy, although the U.S. has long resisted developing countries' climate change-related financial assistance and technology transfer requests.

“The pledges announced here still leave the fund with less than a sixth of the total developed countries should commit,” Tim Gore, head of climate policy for aid group Oxfam, said in a statement. "All eyes are now on those yet to stump up, including the U.S., UK, Australia, Canada, Japan and New Zealand, and on the devil in the detail of those pledges made today."

4. Private companies and cities are in the lead now: Dozens of mayors were at the summit to discuss their efforts to cut emissions at the local level. A new study from the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group found that by 2050, cities could cut their annual emissions by an amount that would be equivalent to half of yearly global coal use. Right now, about 3.6 billion people live in cities worldwide, and this is projected to grow to more than 6 billion by mid-century.

On the business front, in the run up to the summit, 73 countries and more than 1,000 businesses, including Norwegian oil company Statoil, signed a World Bank initiative to encourage governments to set a price on carbon. At the summit itself, 25 of those companies, including Unilever and Philips, committed to pricing carbon internally, and boosting their efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions.  Putting a price on carbon is important because it provides an economic incentive for activities with a lower carbon footprint.

5. We might actually keep forests around for a bit longer: The summit featured the rollout of the New York Declaration on Forests, which governments, companies and nongovernmental organizations signed. The declaration proposes cutting the rate of natural forest loss by 50% by 2020, and eliminating it altogether by 2030, among other actions.

Big palm-oil producers, such as Cargill, also committed to protecting Indonesia's remaining forests, much of which has been lost due to palm oil production. Indonesia has the worst deforestation rate in the world, having recently overtaken Brazil.  A recent study found that the greatest forest losses occurred in 2012, the year after the Indonesian government issued a moratorium on new forest development projects. At the climate summit, the Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono touted that moratorium, without mentioning the data showing its ineffectiveness

Preserving forests is a high priority for solving climate change since most forests are a carbon sink; this means they take in more carbon than they let out.

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