Held on Tuesday, September 23 in the very heart of arguably the world’s most influential city, New York, the UN Climate Summit 2014 had all the makings of a pivotal catalyst for positive climate change.
Coming days after hundreds of thousands of activists marched in cities around the world demanding change, and attracting 120 world leaders during one of politic’s busiest months, the Summit had the best possible platform from which to deliver lasting messages of hope.
Yet despite a handful of encouraging developments and announcements, the overall impression is that world leaders once again failed to grasp the nettle and thrust the issue of climate change to the forefront of political discourse.
"There is a huge mismatch between the magnitude of the challenge and the response we heard here today," said Nelson Mandelas widow Graça Machel in an address that served to puncture the positivity generated by UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon’s "We have delivered" rhetoric.
Machel, a UN Elder (charged with working for global peace and human rights), said that leaders had failed to adequately address the questions posed by the thousands of people who marched to demand action on climate change, adding that their inactivity will continue to blight the lives of millions of poor.
"Can we genuinely say we are going to preserve their lives, and ensure their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren inherit a planet that is safe and sustainable?" mused Machel, who concluded her speech by calling on world leaders to "step up their ambition."
However, despite being overshadowed by the ongoing ISIS crisis, the fact that the Summit garnered so much coverage and attention was a cause for optimism, argued former U.S. vice president and famed environmentalist Al Gore. "There is no question that a considerable amount of momentum was generated here," he told The Guardian. "I think it was a tremendous boost to the whole movement that is towards the Paris agreement."
Pledges and silence
The Summit was the first of its kind since a meeting in Copenhagen in 2009. Among the positives was a recognition that the increase in extreme weather occurrences could no longer be ignored, and the $2.3 billion pledged by Denmark, France, south Korea, Norway, Mexico and three others to the Green Climate Fund. However, the fact that the U.S., the U.K., Australia, Japan, Canada and New Zealand refused to commit monies to the fund which goes towards aiding developing economies’ energy and environmental efforts raised eyebrows. The UN has targeted between $10 and $15 billion in its fight against climate change.
Beyond the politicians, the presence of a number of city mayors and company CEOs was seen as a positive development. Increasingly, the fight against climate change will be led by cities and multinationals, and a World Bank initiative to encourage governments to set a price on carbon attracted more than 1,000 signatories from leading businesses.
However, while most leading politicians spoke passionately about their desire to tackle climate change, the lack of concrete action was the collective elephant in the room. While French president Francois Hollande pledged $1 billion for the Green Climate Fund, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron would not be drawn on any binding commitments.
"As Prime Minister I pledged to lead the greenest government ever, and I believe we have kept that promise," said Cameron. Yet despite Camerons rhetoric, critics remain concerned by the governments dwindling support of solar and other renewable sources in favor of fracking.
"This was Cameron’s opportunity to be remembered on the right side of history as a leader who acknowledged the positive role of renewable energy in delivering emissions reductions, energy security and economic growth," said Nina Skorupska, chief executive of the U.K.s Renewable Energy Association (REA). "The largest climate march in history this weekend was not a call for relaxed fracking regulations or more nuclear. The marchers were calling for more renewable energy, because renewables are the only energy source that tick all three boxes: waste-free, genuinely low carbon and coming down in cost as the industry matures."