UN Under-Secretary-General and
Executive Director, UNEP
Twelve months after the high-profile United Nations
climate convention meeting in Copenhagen,
Governments meet once more in the Mexican city
of Cancun to assess and to catalyse a response to
the urgent challenge of climate change.
Some have been managing expectations down,
but perhaps this is a moment to manage them up.
This year has witnessed more than its fair share of
extreme weather events from the tragic floods
in Pakistan to the record-breaking temperatures,
smogs and peat bog fires in Russia in line with
the latest assessment of the Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change. Indeed there is every
indication that 2010 will join 1998 as the warmest
year since records began.
So, the scientific data accumulates. But what about
the international response? What will put us on
track to limiting greenhouse gas emissions to an
average of 44 gigatonness (Gt) of CO2-equivalent
in 2020 the level needed if we are to have a
reasonable or 66 per cent chance of keeping global
temperatures below 2 °C by 2050?
The pledges made and actions proposed by
developed and developing countries at and after
Copenhagen must be made good. The funds
promised for fast start and beyond must
be delivered. And the mechanisms needed including for reduced emissions from deforestation and forest
degradation (REDD) must be made operational.
UNEP, in partnership with leading climate modelling agencies
has published an assessment on where we are and where we need
to go. It emerges that the meeting in Copenhagen will have far
from failed if all that was promised is delivered. Indeed the
ambitions associated with the Copenhagen Accord could cut
greenhouse gas emissions by a not insignificant 7 Gt of CO2-
equivalent, leaving a gap of perhaps 5 Gt in 2020.
There are huge opportunities for bridging that gap, accelerating
a response to climate change, and tackling a host of other
environmental challenges. Over the past year, the science on
so called non-CO2 pollutants such as black carbon, methane
from sources such as rubbish tips, low-level ozone and nitrogen
compounds from vehicles and farming has become clearer,
as has how some of these combine to aggravate their global
This suite of pollutants may, it is estimated, be responsible
for up to 50 per cent of climate change and since they are
short-lived in the atmosphere rapid action on them could
bring reductions in global warming in days, months or just a
few years. Important as this is, it does not preclude the need
for aggressive reduction of long-lived gases such as CO2, but
should be a key complementary measure.
Cutting these short-lived pollutants also has other benefits
as they are also responsible for a wide range of other impacts.
Black carbon, for example, is a key component of the indoor
and outdoor air pollution estimated to kill at least 1.6 million
people a year and damages agricultural productivity. Others
also harm health and crops and help cause dead zones in the
seas. They need curbing anyway, even without climate change.
And many, if not all, can be addressed through national and
regional health or air pollution agreements or through
forward-looking partnerships such as the new Global Alliance
for Clean Cook Stoves.
Yet the window for action is narrowing fast. The next
climate convention meeting in South Africa in 2012 may be
the opportunity to realize a new twenty-first century treaty.
But Cancun also needs to make its own mark in contributing
towards a transition to a low carbon, resource-efficient Green
Economy, powered by clean technology. It can and it must be a
time where action on financing, mitigation and adaptation can
mature perhaps supplemented by action on other greenhouse
gases. Above all it must demonstrate to business and to the
public alike that Governments remain serious and committed
to counter climate change, while seizing the opportunity to
meet wider development and environmental goals.