1 August 2007
General AssemblyGA/10609
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-first General Assembly

Informal Thematic Debate

AM & PM Meetings




Delegates Outline Problems, Prescribe Solutions

As General Assembly’s Informal Thematic Discussion Continues into Second Day

The international community should avoid “gloom and doom” scenarios, because it now had readily at hand many of the tools to tackle the challenge of climate change, Sha Zukang, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, said today.

Addressing the General Assembly informal thematic debate on the challenge of climate change, he said the headline-grabbing phenomenon touched all countries at all levels of socio-economic development.  The United Nations had a role to play, especially in shepherding the international community’s climate change efforts, ensuring the accelerated deployment of new, clean technologies and in monitoring the implementation of relevant agreements.  “All of us -- the United Nations family, its Member States and other stakeholders -- have the opportunity to turn this challenge into a win-win situation by more closely integrating climate change into the international development agenda,” he concluded.

However, Grenada’s representative, speaking on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), said climate change was the greatest threat facing their territorial existence.  “As the most vulnerable, we have been the unwitting food tasters in a royal court that is being slowly poisoned by climate change.  As the proverbial canary in a coal mine, the small island States have repeatedly raised the alarm bells on global warming over the last 15 years.”  AOSIS was extremely disappointed at the decline in public funding for research in and development of renewable energy and clean technologies, in addition to which an unprecedented educational programme for consumers was required.  The United Nations was uniquely placed to communicate in various ways the mantra of “reduce, reuse and recycle”, he emphasized.

He said the cost of global adaptations was estimated to be in the tens of billions of dollars, yet the Adaptation Fund established under the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change had not yet become operational.  It should be fast-tracked without becoming a new bureaucracy.  Additionally, the Catastrophic Risk Insurance Fund developed by the World Bank required expansion beyond the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) to include all island States.  The General Assembly and the Security Council should work jointly to ensure the proactive positioning of military assets to provide rapid rescue and humanitarian aid to vulnerable regions.  Small island States would continue to be at the forefront of the debate and of implementation of solutions, “because our lives depend on it”.

Today was the second day of an informal thematic debate entitled “Climate change as a global challenge” and organized in preparation for the high-level event to be held at the beginning of the sixty-second Assembly session in September, and ahead of the thirteenth Conference of States Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, set for Bali, Indonesia, in December.  Whereas yesterday was devoted to two panel discussions involving climate change experts (see Press Release GA/10607), today was reserved for contributions by country delegates and United Nations officials.

Portugal’s representative, speaking on behalf of the European Union, assured participants that the regional organization’s members were fully committed to delivering their share of the international community’s ambitious emission reductions.  The European Union would work with global partners towards a low-carbon future by, among other ways, expanding its strategic partnerships and bilateral activities with third countries -- particularly in relation to energy efficiency and renewable energy -- and to emerging technologies, such as carbon capture and environmentally safe sequestration, and by engaging more closely with international financial institutions and the private sector.

Specifically, the European Union had agreed in March upon ambitious commitments with a view to kick-starting intergovernmental negotiations on a post-2012 agreement, he said.  To that end, until such agreement was reached, the European Union was making a firm independent commitment to achieve a reduction of at least 20 per cent in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 compared to 1990 levels.  It was also willing to commit to a reduction of as much as 30 per cent if other developed countries made comparable reductions and economically advanced developing nations contributed adequately.  The European Union had called for a 50 per cent worldwide reduction in emissions by 2050.

Speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, Mukhdoom Faisal Saleh Hayat, Minister for Environment of Pakistan, expressed the Group’s concern about rising sea levels, the increasing frequency and intensity of weather events, deglaciation, drought and desertification, all of which threatened the sustainable development of many developing countries.  Member States that had not yet done so should ratify and implement the Climate Change Convention and its Kyoto Protocol.  The Group of 77 reaffirmed the Rio principles on environment and development, in particular the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, and stressed that, without effective mitigation, all efforts to address climate change would remain fruitless, he warned.

The most formidable challenges included the failure to fulfil commitments under the Kyoto Protocol and inadequate financial resources for adaptation efforts, he said, emphasizing the urgent need to build up resilience to natural disasters and to establish early warning systems.  In order to enable developing countries to pursue sustainable development and address the challenges posed by climate change, the developed countries should, among other things, provide adequate and additional financing for adaptation; transfer technology; support efforts to enhance capacity-building among developing countries for mitigation and adaptation; and implement commitments made at various international summits and conferences.  Addressing climate change should be pursued within the framework of the United Nations.

Uganda’s representative, speaking on behalf of the African Group, said the region was most at risk from environmental changes due to global warming.  The continent was home to many of the world’s poorest countries, which were unable to afford all mitigation and adaptation strategies on their own.  Global warming would have a strong and adverse impact on human health and food security in Africa, which would, in turn, be exacerbated by the rising risks of malaria and dengue fever, and by the loss of agricultural productivity.  Already menaced by rising seas, the continent’s shores and small island States also faced the threat of decreasing marine fauna, in addition to extreme drought, floods, wind erosion and unprecedented land degradation.

He said the African Summit in January had called for, among other things, the urgent streamlining of the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) funding mechanism and for the transfer of relevant climate-friendly technology.  African countries needed appropriate and affordable technology, capacity-building, training and financial support in order to adapt to the consequences of climate change, which was, in essence, a developmental issue.  It was to be hoped that the upcoming meeting of the Climate Change Convention would result in efforts to help, not overburden, those least responsible for the problem and most affected by its consequences.

The representative of Belize, speaking on behalf of CARICOM, said that, since the region was already experiencing the effects of climate change and dealing with the attendant environmental and economic costs, adaptation had become an imperative.  To that end, CARICOM had taken bold steps to tackle the issue since 1997 and, today, the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre was spearheading the coordination of the regional response.  At the recent meeting of CARICOM Heads of Government in Barbados, regional leaders had approved a trust fund to jump-start local research at the Centre.

She said CARICOM member States were concerned by indications that major emitters might be prepared to settle for a greenhouse gas mitigation target that would see average global temperatures rise by as much as 2°C.  But, with the region already having difficulty coping with the effects of present-day climate variability and weather fluctuations, a further 2°C temperature rise could spell disaster for the region’s sustainable development targets by impacting tourism, food security, health, water resources, coastal infrastructure and human settlements.  CARICOM urged all industrialized countries to agree to an aggressive post-Kyoto mitigation regime aimed at achieving a temperature rise of less than 2°C.

Many speakers from developing countries pointed out the “ironic” fact that the present concentration of greenhouse gases was the result of more than a century and a half of unabated emissions by the developed countries.  The process of burden-sharing must, therefore, be fair.  The time was not ripe for developing countries to take on quantitative targets, which would be counter-productive for development.  Adaptation was the key for developing countries.

With the available technology, the effects of climate change could be minimized, other speakers pointed out.  The transfer of technology to developing countries must, therefore, be an outcome of the upcoming Bali meeting.  It could, among other things, be used to develop indigenous alternative, renewable and environmentally friendly sources of energy, such as solar and hydro-energy.

Representatives from the developed world described, in turn, how they were dealing with climate change, both in their own countries and internationally.  According to the United Kingdom’s delegate, a draft climate change bill would make legally binding carbon dioxide reduction targets, including the cutting of emissions by at least 60 per cent by 2050.  Plans were also under way to develop the United Kingdom’s first full-scale demonstration of carbon capture and storage with power generation.  The European Union’s emissions trading scheme had already driven substantial investment flows to developing countries through the Clean Development Mechanism, a market in which the United Kingdom had played a leading role.  A new $1.6 billion Environmental Transformation Fund would assist developing countries in tackling climate change and poverty reduction.

The representative of the Netherlands described ways to cooperate with private parties by using a combination of customized policy instruments, ranging from green investment tax measures, to subsidies, to labelling/certification initiatives.  Sometimes, voluntary agreements had been reached with certain sectors, accompanied by tax incentives.  The perception among private parties that the transition to a low-carbon economy was a threat to their business was increasingly being replaced by confidence in the power of innovation.

One speaker from South America said that, with humankind facing the ever more deleterious effects of climate change -– which threatened to push many peoples and cultures to the very brink of extinction -– it was time to demand that the countries that had remained obdurately aloof from the climate change process commit to working with others in finding a solution that would ensure an ecologically sound planet into the post-Kyoto future.  Those countries that were addicted to unsustainable production and consumption practices must be brought on board by the time intergovernmental negotiations kicked off in earnest at the Assembly’s high-level meeting in September.

Calling for adequate financing for the Climate Change Convention’s long-dormant Adaptation Fund, another speaker said the evolving international framework for financing adaptation should recognize –- and treat as a priority –- the needs of small island States, which were bearing the brunt of wildly fluctuating weather patterns, even though they practised none of the harmful consumption and production practices driving global warming.  Further, under no circumstances should the global framework include conditionalities that would make it difficult or impossible for developing countries to access available funding.  Major greenhouse gas emitters should take aggressive mitigation efforts with “severe enforceable penalties” for non-compliance.  Substantial funds should also be made available to build the capacities that would allow small islands to implement adaptation options.

Among the developing-country representatives presenting their Governments’ strategies for tackling climate change, Cambodia’s delegate said that authorities in that country were preparing polices based on a detailed study of existing trends and setting up data management systems for the coastal zone.  The Government was also preparing an adaptation strategy and had taken the first steps towards launching its National Adaptation Programme for Action on Climate Change.  That Plan aimed to address such crucial issues as floods, drought, windstorm high tide, saltwater intrusion and malaria.  Thus far, two priority projects had been identified: development and improvement of community irrigation systems; and rehabilitation of multiple-use reservoirs.

Nigeria’s representative said his Government was seriously addressing desertification and gully erosion through sustained reforestation initiatives and natural-resource conservation programmes.  Nearly 15 years ago, it had launched a “model village” programme to combat desertification, and a subsequent pilot Sand Dune Stabilization Project had been implemented in the north of the country.  At the regional level, Nigeria was working with its neighbours to help restore Lake Chad, which was rapidly drying up.  As for environmental protection, in order to enhance the relationship between oil companies and local communities whose farmlands were harmed by oil spillage, the Government had begun encouraging those firms to clean up their areas of operation.

Mexico’s representative said that, while his Government had developed many strategies to address climate change, including programmes to identify high-priority areas for research and development, boost water-management services and promote biodiversity protection, high financial costs often hampered their implementation and maintenance.  It was, therefore, necessary to ensure support from international financial mechanisms that would bolster efforts to prepare preliminary studies, as well as technical and institutional capacity-building.  Cooperation among States, particularly in the financial and technological fields, was key to promoting developing-country participation in climate change mitigation efforts.

Highlighting Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s “Cool Earth 50” initiative, which aimed to reduce greenhouse gases to half their current level by 2050, and calling for a global consensus on sharing that goal, Japan’s delegate said that that was the type of long-term vision needed to spark global action.  The innovative plan aimed to help change the level of people’s awareness, their attitudes and lifestyles, and recognized the need to involve individuals in the fight against climate change.  At the same time, the plan would not succeed without equally innovative technologies, such as zero-emission coal-fired power stations.

Looking ahead to the Kyoto Protocol’s 2012 sunset, he said any new agreed framework must include all major emitting countries if it was to be effective.  Japan, therefore, proposed a flexible and diverse scheme that took into account the circumstances of each country.  It must also ensure compatibility between environmental protection and economic growth by utilizing energy-saving devices and new technologies.  To meet those objectives, Japan would -– through the creation of a new financial mechanism -- broadly support developing countries backing those principles and making efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, in order to achieve environmentally sound economic growth.

At the outset of today’s session, Han Seung-soo, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General on Climate Change and a former Foreign Minister of the Republic of Korea and General Assembly President, reported on recent discussions with political leaders.  “We heard many voices saying adaptation needed more attention,” he said, adding that there had also been strong calls for the “unleashing” of new technologies that would benefit developing countries.

Ricardo Lagos, another Special Envoy on Climate Change and former President of Chile, took stock of the progress made so far, saying the United Nations would clearly play a fundamental role in the upcoming Climate Change Convention meeting in Bali, where a new, more sophisticated agreement would emerge, bringing developed and developing countries together.

Also participating in the informal debate were the Deputy Minister for Natural Resources and Environment of Viet Nam, and the Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, Environment and Conservation of Venezuela.

The Head of Ukraine’s National Environmental Investment Agency also spoke.

Other speakers taking the floor were the representatives of the United States, Egypt, Qatar, Russian Federation, Philippines, Kuwait, China, Solomon Islands, India, Colombia, Trinidad and Tobago, Cambodia, Turkey, Indonesia, Poland, Germany, Monaco, Australia, Mexico, Croatia, France, Ecuador, Singapore, New Zealand, Belarus, Finland, Italy, Tajikistan, Mauritius, Sweden, Canada, Republic of Korea, Sudan and Brazil.

The Assembly will meet again at 10 a.m. tomorrow, Thursday, 2 August, to continue its informal thematic debate on climate change.

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