On 7 February, Mr Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, addressed the GC24 plenary on the climate change debate.
Mr De Boer stated that climate change had moved to the top of the political agenda, because of climate change itself, and because of related issues of rising fossil fuel prices, energy security and issues of public health linked to air pollution. Climate change had also moved to the top of the news agenda around the world, with the media focusing increasingly on the consequences of climate change that are already observable, especially impacts on poorer communities, such as reduced rainfall, more drought, increased flooding and new diseases emerging.
He pointed out that the business community had issued a very clear call for action and leadership. Business around the world needed clear signals from politicians in order to be able to plan ahead and make investment decisions.
Mr de Boer reviewed some of the recent reports on climate change, such as the one issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in February 2007 and the 2006 UK government report by Sir Nicholas Stern. He pointed out that the IPCC report had indicated very clearly what consequences of climate change the world can expect if there is a failure to act. "It has narrowed the margins of uncertainty; it offers clear science," he said. More importantly, he pointed out, the report was supported by governments and by policy makers.
The Stern report focused more on the economic aspects of climate change. "It tells us why it is more economical to act now, and lays out the potential economic consequences of climate change especially for the poorest countries."
Mr de Boer mentioned two further forthcoming IPCC reports: one on the impacts of climate change and a later one on what policy responses could be taken to avoid some of these consequences.
"The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, supported by UNEP and WMO, is giving us the scientific basis for policy action," he said. "The question of the science is behind us and we now get on to the policy debate."
The Executive Secretary went on to enumerate some of the tools the international community has at its disposal to address these issues and move forward on the policy response. He mentioned the agreement by many countries at the last UNFCCC Conference of the Parties in Nairobi to develop mechanisms to support developing countries to adapt to the consequences of climate change, and mentioned the discussions over setting up an adaptation fund. He also pointed to the announcement of the Nairobi framework, announced by former Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Implemented jointly by UNEP and UNDP, this is an initiative to support African countries to gain access to the Clean Development Mechanism under the Kyoto Protocol. Mr de Boer mentioned efforts to mainstream energy and climate change considerations into national development plans and poverty reduction strategy plans. Finally, he welcomed the World Bank initiative on an investment framework on greening economic growth and on energy for development and providing energy for the poor.
Mr de Boer said that he was very encouraged by the UN-system-wide response to climate change and that it was important to approach the issue on a global level. He also welcomed what he referred to as "important political initiatives" and pointed out that these were very encouraging in terms of industrialized country leadership. He particularly mentioned two initiatives: First, the recent announcement by Germany as the current G8 Presidency to take climate change to the top of the political agenda in order to feed into the negotiating process. And, second, he welcomed the European Commission's proposal to unilaterally reduce emissions by 20% by 2020 (30% if others join). He called it " exactly the kind of signal that developing countries expect from industrialized countries."
Looking ahead to the next UNFCCC Conference of the Parties, set to take place in Bali in December, he mentioned some of the priorities Indonesian Environment Minister Rachmat Witoelar had set: Economic growth, poverty eradication, and environmental protection.
Mr de Boer concluded his remarks by stating: "Each year we are making investment decisions on what will be our legacy for decades to come; it will be a negative legacy in the absence of clear policy signals. I think the science is absolutely unequivocal in terms of what we need to do; all we need now is the political and the policy response."