By Roeland Scholtalbers, CIDSE
Even though last week’s UN climate summit in New York delivered in terms of declared good intentions by some leading countries, it clearly didn’t break the deadlock of the climate negotiations. With the terrifying but realistic prospect of world leaders failing to reach an ambitious climate deal in Copenhagen, we need to ask ourselves: did world leaders make sufficient progress in New York?
From an American perspective Obama’s speech on climate change meant a break with the past, but it failed to go beyond general promises and good intentions. On the plus side both China and Japan provided some concrete indications on how they will tackle climate change, and the Danish Prime Minister extended the formal invitation to leaders to attend the Climate Summit in Copenhagen in December, with UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown being the first to commit publically to going. The CIDSE-Caritas Internationalis delegation pressed this particular issue at all meetings with government delegations and we hope that further commitments will follow quickly. All in all, there were encouraging signs at the New York Summit, but more concrete progress with greater ambition on emission reduction targets and financing for climate action in developing countries is needed to push the negotiations forward.
CIDSE and Caritas Internationalis were very happy to contribute to the civil society mobilisation this September, which is key to increasing public and political pressure before Copenhagen. The CIDSE-Caritas delegation was unique with its combination of lay and religious leaders from North and South. Governments we met with were receptive to our message and although they may not have agreed with all our demands, it is clear that the moral message, expertise and day to day experiences of climate change that the delegation brought were an important reminder of the injustice of climate change and the moral and developmental imperative for governments to take urgent action.
Cardinal O’Brien (UK), Southern bishops Onaiyekan (Nigeria) and Gomes (Bangladesh) as well as Sister Delci Franzen (Brazil), Nafisa D’Souza (India), Janet Mangera (Kenya) Elizabeth Peredo (Bolivia) provided eye-openers for many of the politicians we met, pinpointing the moral dimension of climate change. As Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the UNFCCC, admitted during a meeting with the delegation, the ‘human face’ has been missing so far in the climate negotiations.
Nobody knows better than our Southern delegation members what suffering and misery climate change brings about. From floods in Bangladesh and India to droughts in Kenya and Nigeria or melting glaciers in Bolivia; one common trait can be always be identified: poor people who didn’t contribute to creating the problem are the ones whose lives are threatened and severely impacted.
Political leaders meeting the delegation in New York encouraged CIDSE and Caritas to continue their efforts to raise both the level of ambition among decision makers as well as public awareness. Whilst sharing our concerns about the current stalemate in the negotiations many of them expressed their scepticism significant progress could be made without one of the leading countries breaking the deadlock by moving first.
In the end, New York leaves us with the feeling that world leaders understand that ambition on mitigation and adaptation is imperative, but that they are sceptical about their own capacity to actually do what is necessary in Copenhagen.
They must know that recognising a problem but failing to act is even worse than simply ignoring a problem. There are only a few weeks left to Copenhagen, but still a lot of road ahead to achieve climate justice.