The opening speeches at the high-level U.N. meeting on climate change at Abu Dhabi Ascent on Sunday constituted a rallying call to world leaders; a declaration that it's time to stop talking and start taking action.
Proceedings opened with a welcome speech by Dr. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, the United Arab Emirates' Minister of State and Special Envoy for Energy and Climate Change. Citing the recent IPCC report on climate change, he told the audience: "We have before us only 15 years to address decades of environmentally harmful activities, and to prevent a global temperature increase of 2 degrees Centigrade," adding later, "If we are to successfully mitigate climate change, then we must commit to a decade of action."
Following Dr. Al Jaber, Secretary General of the United Nations, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, reinforced the message with a sombre warning: "Climate change is the defining issue of our time ... If we do not take urgent action, all our plans for increased global prosperity and security will be undone." His rallying message came towards the end of his speech when he said, "Climate action is feasible, affordable and beneficial ... Change is in the air. Solutions exist. The race is on. It’s time to lead."
Concluding the opening segment, Mr John W. Ashe, United Nations President of the 68th session of the General Assembly, succinctly provided some stark reminders: "We have engaged for far too long in talks;" "We need to take action now, and it has to start today;" and finally, "We have to make Paris meaningful." - Referring to the 2015 U.N. FCCC Climate Change Conference in Paris where a global, binding climate agreement will be negotiated.
The message is clear, delegates from governments around the world need to use this meeting to begin addressing solutions in a collaborative manner; and to get the ball rolling, immediately following the conference opening, Mr. Al Gore, former Vice President of the United States, made the keynote address.
Mr. Gore used powerful graphics and charts in a tone familiar to those who watched his 2006 documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth," to reinforce the urgency that action must be taken. His address was up-to-date in terms of chronicling extreme weather events of the last week, such as the devastating mudslide in Afghanistan and extreme rains in Florida, while depicting alarming trends such as the fact that between 2006 and 2010, drought has turned 60 percent of Syria's fertile land into deserts. Indeed, as Mr. Gore noted that extreme heat events are 100 times more common than they were three decades ago, the picture was the familiar and depressing one.
But more optimistically, things have moved forward since Mr. Gore's film was released around eight years ago. He pointed out that today, 79 countries have reached the point where the price of solar energy has reached price-parity with grid average prices, and that within six years, 82 percent of people globally will have access to solar energy at, or lower, than grid average prices.
Mr. Gore also applauded the fact that the business and investment community is moving forward at a rate far greater than that of governments in terms of investment flows, and that new business models are appearing -- and new finance models, too. And he is optimistic that while actions to address climate change have started off slower than expected, they will end up being faster than expected in the end. We'll see if global government leaders pick up the mantel, but in the meantime Mr. Gore concluded, "Political will is a renewable resource."
But this perhaps is a proving ground of the political will that will play out over the next year. In a later press conference with Ban Ki-moon and Dr. Al Jaber, it was stressed that the meeting in Abu Dhabi is a very important milestone, and one where it is hoped strong political momentum is generated; because this is the last stop before the U.N. climate conference in New York in September of this year, which is itself the last stop before global leaders hash out an agreement next year in Paris.
Photo courtesy of Abu Dhabi Ascent
Travel expenses for the Author and TriplePundit to attend Abu Dhabi Ascent were provided by Masdar.
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Phil Covington holds an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School. In the past, he spent 16 years in the freight transportation and logistics industry. Today, Phil's writing focuses on transportation, forestry, technology and matters of sustainability in business.