Climate change must be taken as seriously as the issues that have traditionally monopolized first-order political attention such as conflict, poverty and the proliferation of deadly weapons, Secretary-General Kofi Annan told a United Nations conference on the issue in Nairobi today.
“Instead of being economically defensive, let us start being more politically courageous,” he said. “The Nairobi conference must send a clear, credible signal that the world’s political leaders take climate change seriously. The question is not whether climate change is happening, but whether, in the face of this emergency, we ourselves can change fast enough.”
Mr. Annan said climate change is not just an environmental issue, but is “an all-encompassing threat.” He cited growing threats posed by climate change to human health, the global food supply, to communities facing inundation due to rising sea-level, and as a threat to peace and security.
“A few diehard sceptics continue trying to sow doubt. They should be seen for what they are: out of step, out of arguments and out of time. In fact, the scientific consensus is becoming not only more complete, but also more alarming. Many scientists long known for their caution are now saying that global warming trends are perilously close to a point of no return.”
Economists, he added, are also warning about the cost of climate change, citing the recently released study by Nicholas Stern of the United Kingdom, who warned that climate change could shrink the global economy by 20 per cent, and cause economic and social disruption on a par with the two World Wars and the Great Depression.
Mr. Annan said responding to climate change would be cost-effective. “Low emissions need not mean low growth, or stifling a country’s development aspirations,” he said, stressing that “it will cost far less to cut emissions now than to deal with the consequences later.”
He called for more research and development, saying current levels “are woefully, dangerously low,” and for more “green” approaches to meet surging energy demand. And he stressed the need to help people to adapt to global warming and its effects, particularly in the world’s poorest countries.
Mr. Annan praised a new initiative of five UN agencies launched today, the Nairobi Framework, to help developing countries, especially in Africa, to participate in the Clean Development Mechanism. He called the mechanism “an outstanding example of a UN-led partnership linking government action to the private sector in the developing world.”
Also today, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) announced a new partnership that aims to provide assistance to reduce the vulnerability of poor countries and communities in the face of climate change and “climate proof” their economies.
More than 100 ministers and 6,000 participants are attending the conference in Nairobi, where discussions are moving forward on efforts to support adaptation to climate change, as well as to discuss future commitments to reduce climate-change-causing greenhouse gas emissions after the 2012 expiration of the Kyoto Protocol, which contains binding emissions targets.
Although the conference is not expected to result in a post-Kyoto agreement, discussions at the conference could prepare the way for a new commitment that can start at the beginning of 2013.
Speaking to reporters after delivering his speech, Mr. Annan again sounded the alarm on the need for action. “We cannot wait until 2012 and I’m really hopeful that, given the kind of movement we are seeing now, the pressures governments and leaders are coming under, we will come up with a mechanism that will go beyond 2012.” Failure to reach an agreement “would be catastrophic,” he warned.
From United Nations