U.N. climate summit falls short for marchers, world's poorest

Reuters News
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Posted: Sep 24, 2014 12:24 PM

By Megan Rowling

BARCELONA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Leaders at the U.N. climate summit in New York made too few commitments on curbing climate change to meet the demands of the hundreds of thousands of people who flooded streets worldwide on Sunday calling for bold action, civil society groups said.

But they took some heart from the limited pledges made by governments on Tuesday, together with signals that countries are serious about agreeing a new global climate deal next year in Paris, aiming to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius.

For example, several states - including Mexico and South Korea - promised to put money into the fledgling U.N. Green Climate Fund, which is intended to help vulnerable countries adapt to extreme weather and rising seas, and develop cleanly.

According to a tally by aid agency Oxfam, fresh pledges in New York totaled $1.325 billion, with France making the largest contribution of $1 billion over the next four years.

"The cash is starting to land in the Green Climate Fund, albeit at little more than a trickle," said Tim Gore, Oxfam's head of climate policy. "All eyes are now on those yet to stump up, including the United States, UK, Australia, Canada, Japan and New Zealand, and on the devil in the detail of those pledges made (on Tuesday)."

Developing countries have called for an initial capitalization of the fund of $15 billion, and the U.N.'s top climate official, Christiana Figueres, said it should be at least $10 billion.

The total promised so far to the fund - which will hold its first pledging conference in November ahead of annual U.N. climate talks in Peru - is just over $2.3 billion.

Separately, Norway said it would spend up to $300 million to support a program in Peru to reduce emissions from the destruction of the world's fourth largest tropical forest, and up to $150 million to tackle deforestation caused by logging, agriculture and charcoal production in Liberia.

Meanwhile, the European Union said it aims to allocate more than 3 billion euros ($3.8 billion) in grants to support sustainable energy in developing states over the next seven years.

ADAPTATION GETS 'SHORT SHRIFT'

Robert Glasser, CARE International's secretary general, said his organization was "disappointed that climate change adaptation has been given short shrift at this summit".

"Though various initiatives have been announced here and there, with such vague information from governments, it's not clear whether they will be of any benefit to the world's poorest at all," he emphasized.

A number of collaborative efforts were launched to help at-risk people become more resilient to climate change. The Red Cross said it would work with governments and others to strengthen the use of climate information in at least 40 countries by the end of 2015, and quadruple the number of cities where it implements urban risk reduction programs.

African states announced the African Risk Capacity Extreme Climate Facility, a multi-year funding mechanism that will issue climate change catastrophe bonds to help countries boost adaptation investments if extreme weather shocks increase.

Leaders from 19 countries, plus 32 investors and other partners, backed the creation of an 8,000 km-long clean energy corridor across east and southern Africa.

U.S. President Barack Obama said federal agencies would be required to factor climate resilience into the design of their international development programs and investments. The U.S. government will release new data and tools enabling developing countries to better understand extreme weather risks and prepare for climate impacts.

WHO'S LISTENING?

But some aid agencies were critical of another major initiative, to help 500 million farmers adapt to more stressful growing conditions through "climate smart" agriculture, and of a declaration setting a goal to cut the loss of tropical forests in half by 2020 and end it in 2030.

ActionAid said there was no definition of what types of agriculture could be called "climate smart", warning it could be used as an unfair way of getting poor countries to take on a large portion of emissions cuts and open the way for agri-business firms at the expense of small-scale farmers.

FERN, a European forest policy NGO, said the forest declaration did not take a strong enough stance on ensuring forest people's rights, and on the need to curb consumption in the developed world. Others were critical because the statement was not endorsed by forest-rich Brazil, which was reported to have said it had been left out of negotiations.

While both Obama and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told leaders at the climate summit they must hear the voices of the hundreds of thousands of people who joined climate demonstrations at the weekend, some questioned how far the message was getting through.

"We marched for the banning of new fossil fuel projects, and for the promotion and funding for community, decentralized, renewable energy systems," said Lidy Nacpil of the Philippines, director of Jubilee South, the Asia Pacific Movement on Debt and Development. "Neither of these were advanced by the summit - it seems they were listening to the corporate sponsors rather than the people."

(Reporting by Megan Rowling; Editing by Tim Pearce)