Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York



The fact that more than 80 Heads of State and Government would come together at Monday’s high-level event on climate change in New York was a sign of the growing consensus on the need for the international community to act on climate change, United Nations officials responsible for facilitating talks on the launch of a new international climate change agreement said at a Headquarters press conference this afternoon.

Speaking in advance of the high-level event were Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and Rajendra Pachauri, Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the leading body responsible for assessing climate change, which published three major scientific reports earlier this year. 

Mr. de Boer said the December meeting of the parties to the Climate Change Convention in Bali must provide the political answer to the scientific findings of the IPCC, but that point could not be reached without the support of the Heads of State and Government who would be gathering in New York next week.  There was reason for confidence that the initiative launched by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon would serve that purpose.

Beginning with the European Union’s unilateral commitment to a 20 per cent reduction in greenhouse emissions by 2020, a huge political momentum had been building this year on the question of climate change, he said.  The European Union had also indicated its willingness to go to minus 30 per cent if other industrialized countries would join in.  That was an example of the leadership for which the international community, and especially developing countries, had been calling.

Recalling other recent developments, he said that in June, the General Assembly had put in place a very ambitious climate change agenda, indicating the need to advance negotiations in Bali with a view to a 2009 conclusion so as to put in place a post-2012 climate change regime by the expiry of the current Kyoto Protocol commitment.  During a recent working-level meeting in Vienna, participants had indicated that they wanted their further work guided by an emission reduction range in the order of -25 to -40 per cent.  The meeting had also concluded that the solution to climate change problems was affordable.

Mr. Pachauri said IPCC was expected to adopt its synthesis report in Valencia, Spain, on 17 November.  It would integrate all the information contained in earlier reports produced by the Panel’s working groups, the latest one, on mitigation of climate change, having been released in May.  The synthesis document would provide the most policy-relevant scientific overview of the current understanding of climate change.

Summarizing the main findings of the reports, he said there was much greater evidence of increasing human influence on climate change, largely due to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions.  The latest scientific data pointed to increasing average global temperatures, with particular acceleration in the last two decades; changes in precipitation patterns; an increase in the intensity of cyclone activity; rising sea levels; and a decline in Northern Hemisphere snow cover, as well as in the size and mass of glaciers.

He went on to say that continued projections for warming at the end of the present century ranged from 1.8 to 4 degrees Centigrade.  Malnutrition was expected to be exacerbated further by the reduced length of the growing season, with some countries facing a 50 per cent reduction in yields from rain-fed agriculture.  Some 75 million to 250 million people in Africa would be exposed to increased water stress by 2020, and coastal settlements would be at risk as a result of inundation and erosion.  Climate change would also have an adverse effect on biodiversity, with many species at risk of extinction.

“It is time for action, we need adaptation to climate change, because irrespective of what we do, we will have to live with change in the climate,” he continued.  However, adaptation alone could not cope with all the projected impacts of climate change.  Hence, a mix of strategies was needed, including adaptation and mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions.  It was particularly worrisome that, despite the Climate Change Convention having come into existence in 1992, greenhouse gases covered by the Kyoto Protocol had increased by 24 per cent between 1990 and 2004.  “We must ensure that we reach a peak in emissions as quickly as possible, beyond which they must decline rapidly,” he stressed.

The good news was that the cost of stabilization would not be very high, he said.  At the lower end of stabilization options, the cost in 2030 would not exceed 3 per cent of gross domestic product, which amounted to 0.12 per cent of gross domestic product on an annual basis.  With new technologies, new methods and changes in behaviour, the costs would actually go down.  “We need carbon taxes, which could perhaps be auctioned under an emissions trading system.”  Also needed were technological changes, energy efficiency improvements and higher prices for fossil fuels.  The costs of mitigation would be far lower than those of unmitigated climate change.

To several questions about Monday’s meeting, Mr. de Boer replied that he expected the event to express an understanding of the scientific message that Mr. Pachauri had just conveyed and express a sense of urgency in terms of the negotiating progress.  It was to be hoped that the meeting would become a clear call from Heads of State and Government for real negotiations to begin in Bali with a view to completion in 2009.

Regarding efforts to offset the environmental impact of the meeting itself, he said the event had been scheduled back-to-back with the General Assembly to reduce the travel involved.  “We respect the position of Member States and would consider it to be primarily their responsibility to offset the emissions that result from their travel and their participation in this meeting.”  For its part, the United Nations was exploring how what it could offset the meeting’s carbon footprint.

In response to another question, he said the Washington initiative announced by President George W. Bush at a recent meeting of the Group of Eight industrialized nations was “interesting”.  Although the meeting brought together a small group of countries, together they accounted for about 80 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.  Thus, if those countries could develop any kind of common sense of direction on how to progress on the climate change issue, that would be a valuable contribution to the process.  The intended goal of the Washington initiative was to begin discussion on what should be a long-term climate change goal, in political terms.  The meeting had also focused strongly on which sectors of the economy should be addressed, the technology that must be placed on the market, and the financial instruments that had to be mobilized.

Asked about the goals sought by the international community, Mr. de Boer stressed the need to address long-term climate change policy, noting that 2012 was only the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, and that the second commitment period certainly could follow.  Under the Protocol, countries had already agreed to begin negotiating what should be the future targets of industrialized countries in the next round.  At the same time, it was important to realize that the United States and Australia were not parties to the Kyoto Protocol, though they were parties to the Framework Convention.  It was necessary to create an opportunity under the Convention to hold a broader discussion on what the integral post-2012 climate change regime should look like.  Whether it would be an agreement on the Protocol, an agreement under the Convention, or something entirely new, was a question that, hopefully, could be answered in 2009.

Mr. Pachauri added that it was critically important to look at post-2012 policy.  Based on the IPCC assessment, adaptation and mitigation measures must go together.  Apart from any caps on emissions that might be agreed upon, it was also important to “put a price on carbon”.  Apart from a policy framework, it was also necessary to develop and disseminate low-carbon technologies.

In that connection, Mr. de Boer said, a clean development mechanism, which had been introduced under the Kyoto Protocol, allowed industrialized countries to meet part of their target by undertaking emission development projects in developing countries.  Even though the Protocol would ultimately deliver less than a 5 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, the value of clean development mechanism projects in the pipeline this year had already reached $25 billion.  Such projects could generate, in an ambitious scenario, a North-South carbon finance flow in the order of some $100 billion a year, which could go a long way towards greening the economic future of developing countries.

Responding to a question about the role of developing countries in any future agreement, he said post-2012 policy would be particularly important for those countries, since the poorest among them would be confronted by the greatest impacts of climate change.  Thus, it would important for those countries to join and develop adaptation strategies.  The international community must provide financial resources, which would allow the poor countries to deal with the effects of climate change.  Seeking to limit carbon emissions, it was also important to promote international cooperation and ensure the transfer of technologies to safeguard poor countries’ economic development and poverty eradication goals.

In response to another question, Mr. Pachauri said changes in public transportation, building practices and lifestyle could make a great difference, though that did not mean that humankind had to go back to the stone age.  Rather, it was time to start evaluating the size of the footprint that humans were imposing on ecosystems through carbon dioxide emissions and other impacts.“Combating climate change is not a war on oil and it is not a war on coal,” Mr. de Boer added in that regard, noting that China and India had an abundant access to affordable coal, but also important economic growth and poverty eradication goals.  Clearly, coal had to be part of the answer for such countries.  The challenge would be to use coal and oil in much cleaner ways, leading to greater efficiency, newer technologies and potential carbon capture and storage.

Responding to several questions about IPCC’s synthesis report, Mr. Pachauri said that in order to provide an integrated view of the situation, it would bring together not only the physical science basis, but also the impacts and adaptation, mitigation and vulnerability aspects.  Mandated to produce a 30-page report, the Panel had the “Herculean” task of summarizing more than 3,000 pages of previous reports.  In fact, in doing that, it hoped to “break some fresh ground” in providing an overview of the situation and the options available.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.