European nations leading, US lagging ahead of UN climate summit

Actor and newly minted UN Messenger of Peace, Leonardo DiCaprio and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, on Saturday. (Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten)

(Malmö, Sweden) – World leaders will soon descend upon New York City for the annual UN General Assembly, starting on Tuesday. One of the main issues on the docket is climate change. A series of demonstrations across the world culminated in a march led by UN Secretary General Ban -ki-Moon.

The hope is that world leaders will step up today to prevent future damage the the planet. Ban hopes that the march and the enlisting of actor and environmental activist Leonardo DiCaprio will spark people to take notice and countries to act. The Hollywood star will address delegates at Tuesday’s climate change summit.

However, some countries will be attending with plans already underway. Notably, the United States will not be kicking in money to a climate change fund meant to support developing countries, UN envoy and former Irish president, Mary Robinson, to the Guardian.

Germany, on the other hand, is trying to lead other countries to support the fund with a $1 billion pledge over the next four years. It is only a fraction of the money needed to reach the goal of countries contributing $100 billion a year by 2020, as was pledged in 2009 when the Green Climate Fund was announced.

Robinson says that at least $10 billion needs to be pledged to start the necessary momentum for the fund. More countries will need to contribute greater amounts to reach that goal, especially since the United States will not be helping.

“There is no time to lose,” said Ban last week. “Greenhouse gas emissions are at record levels. The effects of climate change are already widespread, costly and consequential.”

The wealthiest nations among the most responsible for global carbon emissions. Making cuts at home and supporting the efforts of other countries is needed from the group. In a report released ahead of the climate summit, the scientists from the Stockholm Environment Institute say that the US and UK need to cut as much as 75% of 1990 emission levels by 2025. That is in addition to the $634 billion that the US is supposed to provide to developing countries. The UK fares better financially with needing to only provide $49 billion.

The numbers are based on the emission burden of each country and the economic heft for each. Much like the case made by the UN, more money is needed to achieve a world with decreased carbon emissions. The good news is that stopping the progress of climate change does not have to come at the expense of economic growth.

“The report refutes the idea that we must choose between fighting climate change or growing the world’s economy. That is a false dilemma,” said former Mexican Felipe Calderón, in a release. “[It] sends a clear message to government and private sector leaders: we can improve the economy and tackle climate change at the same time.”

It is also expected that Tuesday will see the Swedish government announce its commitment of $14 million to help set up the International Land and Forest Tenure Facility, a body that will boost land rights. The issue links to climate change, especially for the forested areas where indigenous people live in many countries. Without deeds to their land, people are forced out to make room for the cutting of trees. The action not only violates the rights of the community members, it harms local ecosystems.

“Establishing clear and secure community land rights will enable sustainable economic development, lessen the impacts of climate change and is a pre-requisite for much needed sustainable investments,” said Charlotte Petri Gornitzka, director general of the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, in a statement.

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Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.