Taking Stock of Climate Summit 2014 – What Happened and What’s Next? Georgetown International Environmental Law Review

Jae-Hyong Shim - Climate Summit

Taking Stock of Climate Summit 2014 – What Happened and What’s Next?

By Jae-Hyong Shim, GIELR Online Staff Editor

Two days after participating in the 400,000-strong climate march that filled the streets of Manhattan, on September 23rd U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was back in more familiar territory inside the halls of the General Assembly to host the one-day Climate Summit 2014. The objective of the Summit was three-fold: (1) to raise political momentum for a meaningful, universal climate agreement to be reached in 2015; (2) to encourage further action on the part of individual countries to reduce emissions; and (3) to enlist the resources of the private sector in addressing climate change, particularly in mobilizing finance. Ban spoke animatedly about the need for “leaders to lead,” and stressed to the hundred heads of state in attendance that “we are not here to talk” but “to make history.”

But talk they did as the thirty-minute opening ceremony alone featured seven speakers. The last, Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, a poet from the Marshall Islands, recited a moving poem addressed to her infant daughter in which she promised to fight for a less climate-vulnerable future, and vowed that the world would not let her daughter down. To at least one commentator, that was perhaps the only notable product of the Summit, dismissing the remainder of the proceedings as having accomplished “almost nothing.” Other reactions were more measured, noting that it will take time to sift through everything that was said to identify rhetoric from substance.

So, what exactly did the Summit deliver in terms of new commitments or enhancements to existing initiatives? The essentials, taken from the official summary and elsewhere, can be carved out as follows:

  1. New climate agreement: the heads of state “committed” to finalize a “meaningful, universal” new agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) at the twenty-first Conference of the Parties (COP-21) in 2015, and to “arrive at the first draft of such an agreement” at COP-20 this December (note the lack of legally binding language both in terms of describing the efforts to arrive at a new agreement, as well as in describing the agreement itself).
  1. The New York Declaration on Forests: this initiative was launched to halve the loss of natural forests globally by 2020, and strive to end it by 2030. The Declaration garnered the support of thirty-two governments, twenty sub-national governments, forty companies, sixteen indigenous peoples groups, and forty-nine NGO and civil society groups.
  1. Green Climate Fund (GCF): US$1.3 billion in new pledges to the GCF from France (US$1 billion), South Korea (US$50 million), Switzerland (US$100 million), Denmark (US$70 million), Norway (US$33 million), Mexico (US$10 million), Luxembourg (US$6.8 million), and the Czech Republic (US$5.5 million) were made. This takes the total amount in pledges to approximately US$2.9 billion (Germany and South Korea had previously pledged US$1 billion and US$50 million, respectively, and Sweden announced a pledge of US$550 million on October 22nd). Several other countries expressed willingness to pledge funds in the near future. The minimum target set forth by the GCF is to raise an initial US$10 billion by the end of this year.
  1. Private sector finance: (1) commercial banks announced their plans to issue US$30 billion of green bonds by 2015; (2) a coalition of institutional investors, including the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, committed to divest US$100 billion by 2015 and to measure and disclose the carbon footprint of at least US$500 billion in investments; and (3) the insurance industry committed to double its green investments to US$84 billion by the end of 2015.
  1. Carbon pricing: seventy-three national governments, eleven regional governments, and more than 1,000 businesses and investors signaled their support for pricing carbon (together, they represent fifty-two percent of global GDP, fifty-four percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and almost half of the world’s population).
  1. Energy: leaders of the oil and gas industry, along with national governments and civil society organizations, committed to identify and reduce methane emissions by 2020.
  1. Agriculture: The Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture, comprised of sixteen countries and thirty-seven organizations, was launched to enable 500 million farmers worldwide to practice climate-smart agriculture by 2030.

Most of the prognosis on the Summit has been one of cautious optimism, with many pointing out that there is yet much to be done. On the new climate agreement front, a week of warm-up negotiations that took place last week in preparation for the COP-20 in December yielded no measurable results. Nevertheless, slow but steady progress, although unlikely to please all (and rightly so given the exigencies created by many climate change-related challenges), is better than no progress.

To gather speed going forward, commitments need to be translated into action. In this regard, renewed mass public engagement and interest in climate change should keep countries and companies on their toes.

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