Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Climate Change: Road to Cancun is littered with obstacles, so call in Christopher Columbus and Nelson Mandela

By Jaya Ramachandran
Republished courtesy of
IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

BONN (IDN) - Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), knows that the road to Cancun is littered with obstacles. She has therefore decided to tread an innovative path: invoking Christopher Columbus and Nelson Mandela.

As the latest round global climate change negotiations kicked off in Bonn on August 2, she reminded some 3,000 people -- including government delegates and representatives of the private sector, environmental groups and research institutions:

"Just over 500 years ago, Christopher Columbus set sail for uncharted waters, determined to change the map of the world. While he was a man of his times with all the faults of his times, he certainly far exceeded his own expectations."

She was invoking the navigator, colonizer and explorer from Genoa, Italy, whose voyages across the Atlantic Ocean in the 15th century led to general European awareness of the American continents in the Western Hemisphere. With his four voyages of exploration and several attempts at establishing a settlement on the island of Hispaniola, all funded by Isabella I of Castile, he initiated the process of Spanish colonization which foreshadowed general European colonization of the 'New World'.

Figueres said: "Like Columbus, we are people of our times with all the constraints of our times and yet we, too, stand on the threshold of a new world. Whether we succumb to the storms of climate change or work together to reach the far shore is up to us to decide."

This was her first speech as Executive Secretary of the Climate Change secretariat, since taking over one month earlier from Yvo der Boer.

Referring to lessons to be learnt from the South African icon, the new UNFCCC chief said: "Nelson Mandela, very much a man of our times, tells us: 'There is no passion to be found playing small, in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living. We must use time wisely, and forever realise that the time is always ripe to do right'."

Highlighting yet another historic dimension, she said: "What is at stake here is none other than the long-term, sustainable future of humanity. Thus as individuals, as governments, as a global community, we must all exceed our own expectations, simply because nothing less will do."

Science, she said, has shown when and by how much greenhouse gas emissions must drop to avert climate change’s worst impacts.

"Time is not on our side," Figueres told delegates. "Decisions need to be taken, perhaps in an incremental manner, but most certainly with firm steps and unwavering resolve."

The week-long talks under way in Bonn are the third round of UN climate change negotiations so far this year, ahead of the next conference of parties to the UNFCCC in Cancun, Mexico, in November.

At that gathering in the Mexican city, Figueres said: "You have both the responsibility and the opportunity to take the next essential step: to turn the politically possible into the politically irreversible."

Speaking to reporters, she said that governments can build on progress made so far in five main areas.

Firstly, the public pledges made by all industrialized countries to slash emissions by 2020 and the plans put forward by more than one third of developing nations to limit their emissions growth must be captured in an internationally-agreed form, she said.

Secondly, governments must forge ahead with efforts to agree on ways to allow developing countries to take action in areas including adapting to climate change, limiting emissions growth, providing adequate finance and enhancing the use of clean energy.

In another key area, "industrialized nations can turn their pledges of funding into reality," she said. In December 2009, these countries promised to provide $30 billion in fast-track financing for developing countries to adapt and mitigate climate change through 2012, with pledges having been made to raise $100 billion annually by 2020.

"Developing nations see the allocation of this money as a critical signal that industrialized nations are committed to progress in the broader negotiations," said Figueres who hails from Costa Rica and represented her country as Environment Minister in previous climate change talks.

Further, "countries want to see that what they agree with each other is measured, reported and verified in a transparent and accountable way," she pointed out. "Countries want to be confident that what they see is what they get."

Finally, the new UNFCCC chief said, while governments agree that pledges must be captured in a binding manner, "they need to decide how to do it".

Governments, she added, "need to deliver this combination of accountability and binding action so that civil society and business can be confident that clean, green strategies will be rewarded globally, as well as locally".

Societies and businesses everywhere today need the incentives and the resources to set off confidently into uncharted waters. It is the prime task of governments to set the sails ever higher, to help humanity capture the powerful winds of change that are waiting to be released, she added.

Transformations like this are made by grasping the politically possible at every step, by turning countless, diverse and sometimes conflicting interests to a common purpose.

"The governments of the world, represented by you here today, have been steadily building that common ground since the UNFCCC began; in Rio, Kyoto, Marrakesh, Bali, and yes, Copenhagen. And this year, in CancĂșn, the climate negotiations can further the cause of multilateralism," she told delegates.

The next round of talks is slated to take place in Tianjin, China, in early October, weeks before the start of the Cancun conference.