In her first address since the conclusion of the UN Climate Change Conference COP24 in Katowice last December, the UN’s top climate official Patricia Espinosa warned that whilst the meeting was a success, the world remained off course with regard to achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, and that all parts of society need to get far more engaged to prevent the worst climate impacts.
In Katowice, governments finalized the Paris Agreement Work Programme, which operationalizes the climate change regime contained in the 2015 Paris Agreement. However, global greenhouse gas emissions continued to grow last year, and the current concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere the highest it has been in 3 million years.
Speaking at the Bauhaus-Universität Weimar on the topic: “Diplomacy and Participation: Towards Sustainable Solutions in Climate Policy”, the Executive Secretary of UN Climate Change called on non-State actors, including academia, to help governments achieve their climate goals.
“We know governments alone cannot address climate change. We need all segments of society to work as hard as possible to drive specific global climate action.
This includes businesses, investors, private citizens, and, yes, academics, architects, designers and engineers—all parts of society,” she said.
Patricia Espinosa reminded the audience that UN Climate Change not only encourages the participation of non-State actors, but actively brings them into the negotiating process.
She said that now that the Paris Agreement Work Programme is in place, the priority for 2019 needs to be to raise ambition to tackle climate change. This can happen at all levels of government and society, not least at the regional and local level:
“Subnational actors, such as states, regions and municipal bodies, need to be involved. They’re often the ones who must implement this work on the ground. It’s important they also align their policies and programs at the local level. This includes an alignment of regulations as well. They can ensure red tape doesn’t get in the way of green progress.
Patricia Espinosa also called on people working in professional fields such clean technology, architecture and urban design to step up to the plate and to take ambitious climate action:
“There are endless opportunities as well in solar, electric, geothermal—every field related to renewable energy (…) The buildings we make, the products we create, how we consume and dispose of those products, how we design our urban spaces, our homes and living spaces—all directly impact our climate footprint,” she said.
Read more about the results of the UN Climate Change Conference COP24 in Katowice and about more aspects of inclusive multilateralism in the full address of Ms. Espinosa:
Ladies and gentlemen, it’s a pleasure to be here and to be your guest lecturer this year—especially as this is the centenary of Bauhaus-Universität.
I’m originally from Mexico, but Germany is my second home. I’m very aware of the prestige of this university, the Bauhaus name, and the importance of your work not only in our lives today, but in building the world of tomorrow.
I want to make it clear from the outset that I am not a technical expert in design, or architecture—or some of the other very specific activities of this university—you are the experts.
But I’ve learned a very important lesson in this position: that solutions to climate change do not come through telling, they come through listening. They come through discussions with experts. We are engaged in a global conversation.
So, while I’m pleased to share my views, I look forward to hearing from the students and faculty here following my remarks and in our discussions tomorrow.
It’s also why today’s discussion is called “Diplomacy and Participation: Towards Sustainable Solutions in Climate Policy”—the key word being participation.
I’m here because I believe you can help build those solutions and to encourage you to become part of a great momentum for change—one not only focused on addressing climate change, but in building a future that is truly resilient and sustainable for all.
Today, I will focus my remarks in three specific areas.
First, I’ll outline our current climate situation and why it’s so urgent to develop and refine both actions and solutions.
Second, I’ll update you on our recent negotiations in Poland with respect to making progress at the international level.
Third, I’ll address the crucial role of non-State actors, including academia coming out of those negotiations.
Ladies and gentlemen, as Secretary General Guterres said at the opening of COP24 last month, we are in deep trouble with climate change.
It’s quickly outpacing our efforts to address it and we must catch up before it’s too late.
On any given day, we see, hear or read about the devastating impacts of climate change upon families and communities throughout the world. Maybe some of you have experienced these impacts firsthand.
What once seemed theoretical is now a clear and present danger for many. I’ve personally visited small island states whose very existence threatens to be destroyed because of rising waters.
Others have had their homes destroyed in wildfires, experience punishing droughts, or other extreme weather events.
We must never forget that at its heart, climate change is about people. Its impacts do not exist in a vacuum.
To each number there is a name. To each statistic there is a face. To each percentage is a person worried about their family.
Climate change is also a threat multiplier. It threatens to take some of humanity’s biggest challenges and make them worse.
This includes issues related to poverty, security, gender equality, struggles over resources, and much more.
If you think it’s restricted to only a few nations far from here, or restricted purely to the weather, you’re wrong.
Let’s talk economics.
Glaciers are melting fast in Austria. In 2015 alone, three glaciers retreated by more than 320 feet—the size of two football fields. This echoes what is happening in the Himalayas, where glaciers have been retreating since the 1960s.
All that water must go somewhere.
Rising sea levels are already threatening densely-populated coastlines in China, including some of the most economically-developed cities such as Shanghai, Tianjin, and Guangzhou.
It’s estimated that a one-meter rise in sea level could inundate 92,000 square kilometres of China’s coast, displacing 67 million people. To put that into perspective, that’s approximately the population of the United Kingdom.
So, what happens if one of the world’s biggest economic regions goes down?
It affects the entire world. It affects international trade. It affects Germany. It affects Turingia. It affects public spending. It affects jobs. It affects income. It affects families. It affects you.
Climate change is pervasive—and whether you’re a minister, a board member of this university, a student or the average person on the street—it’s going to affect your life in some way.
Despite this—despite the overwhelming knowledge we’re armed with—we’re still not doing enough, nor moving fast enough, to prevent irreversible and catastrophic climate disruption.
Ladies and gentlemen, the numbers don’t lie.
According to the World Meteorological Organization, the 20 warmest years on record have been in the past 22 years, with the top four in the past four years.
The concentration of carbon dioxide is the highest it has been in 3 million years.
Die Konzentration an Kohlendioxid ist die höchste seit 3 Millionen Jahre.
Emissions are now growing again.
The recent special report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change finds that warming could reach 1.5 degrees as soon as 2030, with devastating impacts.
The latest UN Environment Program Emissions Gap Report tells us that the current Nationally Determined Contributions under the Paris Agreement will lead to global warming of about 3 degrees by the end of the century.
Furthermore, the majority of countries most responsible for greenhouse gas emissions are behind in their efforts to meet their pledges under the Paris Agreement.
The numbers don’t lie—they tell a painful truth: we are way off course.
We need to change course. We need more climate action, more climate ambition, and we need it now. Not just from governments, but from all segments of society.
We are literally standing at a critical turning point in human history: one where our actions today will have an incredible influence over how future generations will live.
In other words, it’s now or never.
COP 24 and State Actors
The good news is that we are making progress at both the state and non-state level.
Let me first address the state level.
We had an extremely successful outcome at the recent international climate talks in Katowice, Poland—or COP24.
Parties finalized what is known as the Paris Agreement Work Program. What it does, in basic terms, is to operationalize the climate change regime contained in the Paris Agreement.
As you will recall, the Paris Agreement was adopted in 2015 and was one of the most successful multilateral initiatives of modern times. It’s the world’s response to climate change.
The guidelines set out in Katowice ensure that nations understand their roles and what they must do under that agreement. It’s establishes a common trust.
They also state how countries will provide information about their Nationally-Determined Contributions.
These NDCs, as we call them, are vital because they describe the specific climate action each nation will take. This includes mitigation and adaptation measures, as well as details about financial support for climate action in developing countries.
When you get down to it, what we achieved in Katowice was a roadmap for the international community to decisively address climate change.
We know governments alone cannot address climate change. We need all segments of society to work as hard as possible to drive specific global climate action.
This includes businesses, investors, private citizens, and, yes, academics, architects, designers and engineers—all parts of society.
At UN Climate Change, we’ve not only encouraged the participation of non-State actors, we’ve actively brought them into our negotiations process. I call this inclusive multilateralism.
It’s essential to our collective success. Because it’s only when these two elements come together that we can truly address the scale and breadth of our climate change challenge.
The IPCC Special Report I spoke about earlier clearly reinforces this, stating that the success of this partnership, this relationship, this mutually-reinforcing combination between state and non-state, is key if we’re to reach that 1.5C goal.
So, what does this exactly mean to you? And what is your role at the non-State or sub-national level?
Now that we have the Paris Agreement Work Program in place, 2019’s priorities are—as the Secretary General so rightly put it: ambition, ambition, ambition, ambition and ambition.
This ambition must be reflected throughout the climate regime, and included in the revised NDCs that nations must have ready by 2020.
Remember: these spell out specific climate actions and commitments by each country—so they are crucial.
But there is more than just one level of governance in most nations, and specific climate action must be able to be implemented at the local level.
That’s why subnational actors, such as states, regions and municipal bodies, need to be involved. They’re often the ones who must implement this work on the ground.
So, it’s important they also align their policies and programs at the local level. This includes an alignment of regulations as well. They can ensure red tape doesn’t get in the way of green progress.
They can also increase climate ambition independently at the local level as well, whether that’s through specific laws or bylaws, city planning, urban design or raising climate awareness in general.
We need to remember that climate change will affect our communities whether it fits in with long-term planning cycles or not. By working to mitigate it now, by planning adaptation measures now, cities can build a more resilient, sustainable and prosperous future.
Academia has a key role to play as well. You are more than a fertile ground for where great ideas take shape.
You can help develop the specific tools for solutions—whether that’s through technology, innovation or targeted research.
And while I will discuss this more specifically tomorrow, areas such as architecture and design have an immediate and direct impact on not only in the ways we live, but how we live as well.
The buildings we make, the products we create, how we consume and dispose of those products, how we design our urban spaces, our homes and living spaces—all directly impact our climate footprint.
These subject areas reflect some of our best opportunities to not only address climate change but help create a more resilient and sustainable future.
But for this to happen, we can’t let climate change become just part of our conversations—it must be at the forefront. So, at a broader level:
Reinforce that you welcome the latest science, recognize the urgency of the problem and want to become part of the solution.
Use your influence to ensure Parties—nationally and internationally—keep their eyes on the ball—steering the narrative towards urgency, ambition and action.
Reiterate that addressing climate change won’t lead to the erosion of progress and profit, but provide the foundation upon which 21st-century economic success is built.
And you can back this up by telling them that in addition to emissions reductions, climate action can bring $26 trillion—that’s trillion—in economic benefits through to 2030.
This includes creating 65 million low-carbon jobs, avoiding 700,000 premature deaths from air pollution, and growing government revenue by $2.8 trillion.
Some of the biggest businesses and companies throughout the world have seen the writing on the wall. They are capturing the opportunities related to addressing climate change.
There are endless opportunities as well in solar, electric, geothermal—every field related to renewable energy.
More and more governments—both state and non-state, are aligning their policies and legislation for a greener future.
Students are requesting more climate change topics throughout the education system. Academic institutions—like this university—are changing to reflect that.
We see examples of progress everywhere, but we must keep the momentum going.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is within our power to address climate change and create a more sustainable future. It’s going to be extremely hard and it will take the dedicated efforts of people throughout the world.
But this is a fight that is worth it. Not just for our children—but ourselves as well.
It’s work that must begin now. It’s work that must begin here.
I look forward to working with all of you and certainly over the next few weeks, to discuss that work in greater detail.
For more information visit www.unfccc.int.
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