Global leaders respond to 400,000 climate wake up calls

After 400,000 people marched on Sunday, NYC was again the stage of another climate change event: the United Nations Climate Summit 2014. Aimed to move forward the climate change negotiations and achieve an agreement at COP 21 in Paris, the UN Climate Summit gathered over 100 Heads of State and 800 leaders from business, finance and civil society. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon affirmed in his opening statement that “we are not here to talk, we are here to make history.” He challenged global leaders to propose climate actions on five fronts: emission reductions, mobilizing money and markets, pricing carbon, strengthening resilience, and mobilizing new coalitions.

While many of the leaders reiterated previous commitments – e.g. the need to limit global warming to 2o Celsius from pre-industrial level –  some of them announced new commitments that showed a real effort to advance climate change negotiations. Several countries –  developed, developing, and least developed countries – pledged to increase their GHG emission reduction goals beyond 2020 and increase the use of clean energy: the European Union committed to reduce 40% of its emission from 1990 levels by 2030; Ethiopia and Sweden stated their goals to become zero net emissions by 2025 and 2050, respectively; Republic of Korea announced that it will launch  the first Asian Emission Trade Scheme in 2015; Nicaragua committed to generate 90% of its electricity through renewables by 2020; and Tuvalu announced its goals to use 100% clean energy by 2020, just to name a few.

China, the biggest GHG emitter (28% of global CO2 emissions in 2013), announced goals to reduce its GHG emissions for the first time: 40 to 45% from 2005 levels by 2020. China also offered to provide $6 million for the United Nations’ efforts to boost South-South cooperation to address global warming. These announcements come as an initial break through to the developed versus developing country debate, which has been the biggest challenge in climate change negotiations. The shift in the tone of the Chinese government, which recognized its international obligation to tackle climate change as responsible major country, could force key emitter countries, such as United States and India, to participate in post-Kyoto commitments.

Another announced effort was the New York Declaration on Forests. The Declaration, the first of its kind, sets a non-legally binding timeline to cut natural forest loss in half by 2020 and to end it completely by 2030, while restoring 350 million hectares of degraded landscapes and forestlands. These efforts combined would result in a cut between 4.5 and 8.8 billion tons of carbon pollution every year. 32 governments, including Indonesia and Colombia (but surprisingly not my own country of Brazil), signed the Declaration, as did 20 subnational governments, 30 of the world’s biggest companies (e.g. Asia Pulp and Paper, Nestle, and Unilever), and more than 50 civil and indigenous organizations.

And last, but not least, poet Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, a Marshallese citizen, provided a moving speech that brought some world leaders to tears. She gave the face, the voice, and the perspective of those experiencing climate change impacts today – the ones that world leaders hope to address by the end of 2015 in the new mitigation and adaptation agreement.

  Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, Civil Society Representative from the Marshall Islands, is greeted on stage by her husband and her baby after speaking during the Climate Summit at United Nations Headquarters in New York